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Spotlight Report

N.H. priests accused of abuse named

By Caroline Louise Cole, Globe Correspondent, 2/16/2002

CONCORD, N.H. -- Prompted by the state's top prosecutor -- and the ongoing scandal rocking the Archdiocese of Boston -- New Hampshire's Roman Catholic leaders delivered to prosecutors a list of 14 priests who are accused of sexual misconduct with children in incidents stretching from the early 1960s to 1987.

Bishop John B. McCormack made the list public at a news conference yesterday after giving the names to Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin, who initiated discussions with church leaders last week.

At the news conference, McCormack acknowledged that some of the 14 priests were returned to duty after doctors deemed them fit, and he acknowledged yesterday that the practice was wrong.

The Boston Archdiocese recently rescinded a similar policy. The Archdiocese has been in an uproar over the abuse issue that has included demands for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

At a separate news conference yesterday, McLaughlin said his office would investigate each allegation, but cautioned that some cases were a mystery.

"We are going to conduct an ordinary criminal investigation and make an assessment of each given case," he said. The church "agreed to open their files with us, [but] I must stress that we don't know much about these cases. It is possible that some of these allegations have already been reported. I am operating on the assumption, though, that the names haven't been reported."

McCormack was a top church official in Boston before becoming bishop in Manchester in 1998. He and Law are among those named in dozens of civil lawsuits accusing the Boston Archdiocese of turning a blind eye toward priests who sexually abused children.

"What I report is sad in one way because it is about sin, sickness, and crime," McCormack said at the news conference. "And yet in another way it is hopeful news in that our church and community will know that no priest is now serving in ministry who has to our knowledge engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor."

Church officials declined to say whether any of the accused priests who were returned to duty subsequently reoffended.

"The majority of the priests had one accusation," said Pat McGee, a diocese spokesman. "I can't characterize it any more than that."

The Rev. John R. Poirier of Holy Family Parish in Gorham was the only one of the 14 priests actively working. Effective yesterday, he was barred from working as a priest.

Four priests, now retired, had lost their right to minister at the time the allegations against them were made. They are: Eugene Pelletier of Manchester, Albion F. Bulger of Nashua, Joseph A. Cote of Berlin, and Joseph T. Maguire of Hyannis, Mass.

Three priests were suspended at the time the allegations against them were received: Paul L. Aube of Manchester, Stephen Scruton of Dover, and Francis J. Talbot of Manchester.

Five priests, retired, had their permission to celebrate Mass revoked yesterday: Albert L. Boulanger of Manchester, Gerard F. Chalifour of Manchester, Robert J. Densmore of Manchester, Raymond H. Laferriere of Manchester; and Romeo J. Valliere of Berlin.

Conrad V. LaForest of Winnisquam (a neighborhood of Tilton and Belmont) who is currently on sick leave, also lost his permission to celebrate Mass.

McLaughlin said the church decided to come forward after he initiated a discussion with church leaders last week. He said he went to the Rev. Edward Arsenault, the diocesan chancellor, and said, " `Do we have a problem?'

"Based on that initial conversation, [he] met with my office and provided us with a statement saying they had complied with the law."

On Tuesday, McLaughlin said, he initiated another conversation with Arsenault "and asked him to go beyond the letter of the law and to look at the situation through the prism of children and ask whether we were doing everything we could to protect our children." And that, McLaughlin said, led to the release of the names.

Recognizing that it often takes victims years to come forward, New Hampshire law allows prosecutors to file child sexual assault charges until the victim turns 40.

Arsenault said there have been monetary settlements.

McCormack will tell New Hampshire Catholics about the allegations in a letter scheduled to be discussed at churches throughout the state this weekend.

Thirteen of the 14 have unlisted telephone numbers or home phones that are disconnected. Valliere, 68, told The Associated Press that he was first accused of sexual misconduct in 1989 by three women in his congregation. He said he received counseling and was never reassigned to a parish. He then went on sick leave. Asked whether he did what he is accused of, Valliere said: "I certainly hope that I didn't. I know that I didn't. Who can I convince now?"

This story ran on page A8 of the Boston Globe on 2/16/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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