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McCormack speaks to state's priests about future
By J.M. Hirsch, Associated Press, 02/25/03
CONCORD, N.H. -- During a meeting with the state's Roman Catholic clergymen Tuesday, Bishop John B. McCormack said despite mounting pressure to resign he intends to lead the church "with every fiber of my being."
"I am not deaf to those who have called me to leave, but I do not see doing so as consistent with who we are as church or who I am," McCormack told more than 500 priests and lay church leaders at St. John the Evangelist church.
McCormack also urged attendees to rebuild trust in the church that has been eroded by the priest sexual abuse scandal.
He set out his own plan for doing so, including a new process to screen priests for parish assignments, more involvement of the laity and greater transparency in church finances.
McCormack said the screening system would consider all information in the diocese's personnel files on every priest, and would use a "simple filter -- would a parent agree to this assignment?"
McCormack and church leaders around the country are accused of shuffling around priests who abused minors, and assigning them to parish ministry despite allegations -- and sometimes admissions -- of abuse.
McCormack has said poor record keeping sometimes prevented him from knowing about allegations against priests he handled while a top aide to Boston Cardinal Bernard Law for 10 years.
Calls for McCormack to step down have increased since Law resigned in December. McCormack became bishop of the Diocese of Manchester in 1998.
On Tuesday, protesters outside the church greeted attendees and held signs including, "N.H. says no to McCormack. Resign Now." During the meeting, they could be heard inside shouting, "McCormack must go."
During his remarks, McCormack was critical of how the church has treated the laity.
"For too long, many priests and bishops have not trusted in the competence of the laity," he said. "We have tried to protect you rather than entrust matters to you. Some of us have been fearful that we could no trust you to handle 'bad news,' and in our fear and lack of trust, you have lost your trust in us."
McCormack also discussed the thousands of investigative documents about sexual abuse by priests state prosecutors are expected to release Monday. He said the release "will be another painful moment in the life of our church."
McCormack said the diocese will release its own report Monday about the documents that will provide an "honest analysis of what we have done and failed to do as church leaders in the past."
The roughly 9,000 pages of documents are the result of an 11-month investigation by the attorney general's office to determine whether church leaders violated child endangerment laws by shuffling around abusive priests.
The investigation ended in December when McCormack settled with state prosecutors to avert what would have been the first criminal charges against a U.S. diocese.
Five people selected by McCormack were allowed to respond to his remarks. All had high praise for the bishop. Only one was a victim of sexual abuse, though not by a priest. She told the attendees that her priest was essential to her healing.
In his response, the Rev. Richard Thompson of St. Charles Church in Meredith said that during the past year he has questioned his support for McCormack, but recently saw his bishop in a new light.
"I have come to see in my bishop a definite spirit of conversion in his heart and his lifestyle," Thompson said. "I've seen him ask forgiveness."