MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Maggie Barrett no longer goes to church. Katie Bartlett wonders what the leaders of the Catholic Church aren't telling her. And Michele Como is searching for a religious leader she can admire.
Their crisis of faith, these Trinity High School seniors say, stems from the Catholic church's handling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Specifically, from the role they believe New Hampshire Bishop John McCormack played.
''I feel like he lies about everything," said Barrett, 19, who was among 35 students who grilled McCormack at a meeting Friday. ''I feel like I can't look up to him as a leader."
Barrett isn't alone in her sentiments. Nearly half of her fellow graduating seniors at Trinity High School are protesting McCormack's intent to preside over their baccalaureate Mass tonight.
About 50 of the school's 112 seniors have signed a petition asking McCormack not to preside, Barrett said. Several others, including Bartlett, say they're considering not attending tonight's ceremony if McCormack is present.
''They teach forgiveness, but it's hard to teach forgiveness to someone who doesn't own up to their actions," Bartlett said. ''He needs to say, 'Yes, I was wrong.' "
Trinity's principal, Denis Mailloux, downplayed the controversy. ''People outside the school have probably been thinking this has been a huge issue, but . . . most students are not concerned," he said.
A spokesman for McCormack said the bishop will celebrate the Mass despite the controversy. ''He doesn't go to baccalaureate Masses because he is picked," the Rev. Edward Arsenault told the Associated Press. ''He goes because it's his ministry."
McCormack has come under fire for his role in the scandal under Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who resigned amid the clergy sex abuse storm that hit the Boston Archdiocese.
McCormack is scheduled to preside as planned over tonight's ceremony, Mailloux said. The ceremony takes place at 7 p.m. in the Abbey Church at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown.
Trinity High School is a private Catholic school near Manchester's downtown. About 475 students attend the school.
The controversy began in early May, after Barrett and her friends learned that McCormack would preside at the Mass. They allege that McCormack shielded priests accused of sexual abuse and said they felt that he is not a good role model for young Catholics.
''The ninth commandment says, 'Thou shalt not lie.' There he is, lying to us," said Como, 18.
Other students quickly rallied behind them, taking the administration of this small, tight-knit community by surprise.
''It wasn't something I was expecting to hear about," Mailloux said. ''It hasn't been an issue here."
Hoping to soothe students' feelings, Mailloux arranged a meeting between McCormack and students last week. There was ''passionate debate" on both sides and McCormack was open and honest with the students, Mailloux said.
''I think it was very good to hear what he had to say and for students to be able to say what was on their minds," he said. ''These are the future members and leaders of the Catholic church.
''It's good to have conversations" about the allegations of sexual abuse, he said.
Not every student left the meeting satisfied.
''I felt more disgusted after leaving there; I felt more inner doubt," said Bartlett, who said she had hoped McCormack would accept some responsibility for the scandal. ''It makes me wonder, is there more we don't know? Would we be condoning [sexual abuse] if we went to church?"
It is traditional for New Hampshire's bishop to lead the baccalaureate ceremony, Mailloux said. Last year, Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian presided.
Seniors on campus yesterday did not appear to be letting the controversy divide them. Giddy at the prospect of graduation, they eagerly tried on their purple graduation gowns in the parking lot and thrust yearbooks into each other's hands.
Amid the revelry, however, it was clear that McCormack wasn't far from their minds. Students were quick to jump into discussions about the controversy, and few students appeared to be neutral on the issue.
''He's still our religious leader," said Michelle Nordle, 18, a senior who declined to sign the petition. ''We have to treat him with respect."
Some on both sides of the issue agree that recovery from the scandal will not come easy.
''Before, we trusted our bishop. We trusted our priests," said Matthew Schilling, 18, who did not sign the petition. ''That trust was hurt. It's going to take a while to come back."