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Spotlight Report

Bishop says he accepted priests' denials of abuse

By Stephen Kurkjian and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 7/9/2002


John B. McCormack was once a key deputy to Cardinal Bernard Law. (AP File Photo)

 Text
Excerpts from bishop's testimony

 In-depth
The Rev. Ronald H. Paquin is the only Boston Archdiocese priest who has pleaded guilty to charges of child sexual abuse.  
Coverage of the Paquin case

New Hampshire Bishop John B. McCormack acknowledged under oath last month that he accepted without question the denials of two priests in the Boston Archdiocese that they had molested youngsters despite receiving repeated sexual abuse allegations against the men.

McCormack also said he did not think he was obligated to inform authorities about the allegations against the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin and the Rev. Joseph Birmingham because as a priest he was not covered by state law at the time requiring reporting of sexual abuse of minors, according to a transcript of the confidential deposition obtained by the Associated Press.

McCormack, who served as Cardinal Bernard Law's top deputy for investigating clergy abuse before being named bishop of Manchester in 1998, was deposed in connection with a civil lawsuit filed by three men who allege they were sexually abused by another Boston-area priest, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.

The lawsuit accuses Law, McCormack, and several other top archdiocesan officials of failing to stop the alleged abuse by Shanley, who was indicted last month by a Middlesex County grand jury on charges of raping three youths during the 1980s while assigned as pastor of a Newton church.

Although the suit focuses on Shanley, Boston attorney Roderick MacLeish is seeking to show that archdiocesan officials put children and youngsters in harm's way by failing to properly respond to sexual abuse allegations made against priests in their charge.

Questioned by MacLeish, the attorney for the alleged victims, McCormack acknowledged that he had accepted Shanley's explanation in 1985 that he had been quoted out of context in a speech Shanley had made stating that when adults have sex with minors, children are often the seducers.

McCormack said he was wrong to have accepted Shanley's account that he was only speaking about child prostitutes. ''I saw Paul as a person who was an honest guy, who was always trying to help the church reach out to the alienated, the marginalized,'' McCormack said during the deposition held June 4 in Manchester. ''I had no reason to think that he was, when he reported to me, that he was being dishonest. In hindsight, I do, but then I didn't.''

The AP said the transcript of McCormack's sworn testimony was provided by Massachusetts sources. The public release of the information is likely to prompt a response from Superior Court Justice Constance M. Sweeney, who is overseeing all civil cases involving alleged sexual misconduct by Boston archdiocese priests.

Sweeney has denied media requests to obtain transcripts of depositions taken in the civil case involving convicted pedophile and defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, saying the sworn testimony by Law and other archdiocesan officials could only be released 30 days after the deposition was complete.

Sweeney is likely to toe the same line with all sworn testimony involving clergy sexual misconduct suits in which depositions have not been finished, according to some attorneys involved in the cases.

McCormack's deposition is will be continued at a date yet to be determined.

According to selected portions of the transcript, which the AP released last night, MacLeish spent most of the deposition questioning McCormack about his handling of allegations the archdiocese had received about Paquin and Birmingham.

In an account previously reported in the Globe, McCormack said that he had confronted Paquin in 1991 about information he had received from a priest who alleged that Paquin was having inappropriate contact with a Haverhill youth.

''I spoke with Father Paquin. He assured me there was no sexual contact, that this was a boy he had known, that he was trying to be helpful to, so I took him at his word,'' McCormack said. Paquin was indicted last month by an Essex County grand jury for having sexually abused the youth.

McCormack acknowledged in the deposition that he did not question Paquin's account even though he had ordered Paquin removed from a Haverhill church in 1990 after receiving credible allegations of abuse from two other youths.

McCormack also dismissed the concerns of a Gloucester parent who asked in 1987 if Birmingham, who until recently had been assigned to his parish, was the same priest he had heard had abused children elsewhere.

Church officials received abuse allegations for years against Birmingham, who died in 1989. The Globe has previously reported that at least three people say they told McCormack, or that McCormack knew, that Birmingham was abusing children during the 1960s and 1970s.

McCormack said he confronted Birmingham at the time, and Birmingham assured him he was ''clean'' of any problems.

Later in his exchange with MacLeish, McCormack acknowledged learning of another complaint against Birmingham. Asked whether he contacted the unidentified Gloucester parent with that information, McCormack said he could not recall having done so.

McCormack acknowledged having reservations about Birmingham, but said he advised the man not to worry about Birmingham and said he saw no need for him to raise the issue with his son.

''I can't explain why I didn't tell the full story,'' McCormack said.

Sweeney had issued no formal order prohibiting the release of the depositions taken in the Shanley case. But J. Owen Todd, an attorney for the archdiocese, said he believes that a Massachusetts Appeals Court order last month referring all civil cases involving clergy abuse to Sweeney prohibited the leaking of depositions taken in the Shanley case.

''I am astonished by what's happened here,'' Todd said, adding that he was certain that Sweeney would hold an immediate hearing regarding the disclosure of McCormack's deposition.

MacLeish last night vehemently denied being responsible for providing the transcipt. If the deposition was provided by an attorney, he or she could be held in contempt by Sweeney, MacLeish noted.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/9/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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