Report Details Sex Abuse by Priests and Inaction by a Diocese

The New York Times, Mar. 4, 2003
http://www.nytimes.com/
By FOX BUTTERFIELD

CONCORD, N.H., March 3 — The New Hampshire attorney general’s office released more than 9,000 pages of documents and a detailed report today showing how the leadership of the state’s Roman Catholic diocese knew for years about sexual abuse of minors by some of its priests and helped cover it up, violating the state’s child endangerment law.

Today’s report amounts to what the attorney general’s office said was the substance of an indictment that it was prepared to file against the Manchester diocese last December before the current bishop, John B. McCormack, agreed to a deal admitting the government had enough evidence to convict the diocese for child endangerment. Bishop McCormack had also agreed to the release of the documents and a report.

In a departure from other investigations of sexual abuse by priests, today’s report drew on testimony by several of the accused priests themselves.

Providing a picture of how the diocese over the years failed to take steps to protect children, the report focused on eight priests. Their cases were the ones with the strongest evidence not only that they sexually abused children but also that the diocese knew for years about them and helped cover up for them, said James D. Rosenberg, assistant attorney general.

One of the eight, the Rev. Paul Aube, told the attorney general’s investigative team that as early as 1972 he confided to the head priest in his Claremont, N.H., parish that he had been having sexual contact with a 17-year-old boy, and was told: “Well, Paul, we’re all human, you know. We all have weaknesses.”

The parish priest, the Rev. Hector Lamontange, never reported the incident to officials of the Manchester diocese, which covers New Hampshire, Father Aube testified.

Father Aube continued to perform sexual acts on adolescent boys in the rectory in his church, he testified, until 1975 when two Nashua police officers caught him and a boy with their pants down in a car.

Father Aube notified Odore Gendron, then the bishop of the New Hampshire diocese, asked for help for his problem and requested permission to leave parish work.

But Bishop Gendron, according to the report, “contacted the Nashua police chief and asked him for a favor by making sure that there was no record of the incident.” The police chief agreed and there never was a police report.

Instead of being transferred out of parish work, the report said, Father Aube was transferred to a parish in Rochester, N.H., where he sexually abused at least seven more boys until 1981 when the mother of a 15-year-old boy told the bishop that Father Aube was having sex with her son in his room in the church rectory.

Despite this accusation, and a New Hampshire law requiring a report of any child sexual abuse to the government, the diocese did not report the priest, the attorney general’s report found.

The report is the result of a year-long investigation that began after news reports that Cardinal Bernard F. Law in nearby Boston had reassigned priests accused of sexual abuse to other parishes without warning the new churches.

So far, the New Hampshire diocese is the only one in the country to admit to criminal wrongdoing in the priest sexual abuse scandal. There have been a number of other comprehensive investigations of sexual abuse by priests, including a grand jury that uncovered accusations against 145 priests in the Cleveland Diocese and a grand jury that last month issued a scathing report about the Diocese of Rockville Center, N.Y.. A grand jury in Westchester County, N.Y., in June accused churches of cover-ups and urged lawmakers to eliminate the statue of limitations on child sexual abuse cases.

Other grand jury investigations are continuing, including one in Massachusetts, which heard testimony last week by Cardinal Law, who resigned in December.

In a statement today, Bishop McCormack, who took over here in 1998, said the Manchester diocese “does not necessarily agree with all aspects” of the charges in the report.

Moreover, Bishop McCormack said in defense of his church, the report does not support “a charge that any one person in a position of authority with the diocese specifically intended to harm a child.”

But, he said, “The diocese offers no excuses for its past actions.”

In his statement, Bishop McCormack, who formerly was the top deputy to Cardinal Law in Boston, said his parishioners should be warned that the report and the thousands of pages of documents “contain graphic information about the criminal and sinful actions of some priests.”

Over the past year, the Manchester diocese itself has identified almost 50 priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children.

The state decided not to prosecute the diocese, said Mr. Rosenberg, the assistant attorney general, because “the diocese already admitted what we would have gotten out of them in a criminal indictment.” Moreover, Mr. Rosenberg said, the diocese had also agreed to the public disclosure of all the damning material and to public oversight of its handling of the sexual abuse cases.

Those priests who came forward and provided testimony were given a grant of limited immunity, meaning that they can still be prosecuted but nothing they said in their testimony can be used against them.

Of the eight priests whose cases were the focus of the report, two are in prison for criminal sexual assault.

Father Aube, now 62, has been in counseling since 1981, at his own expense.

He decided to talk to investigators, he said, because “I know what I want to stand for, and I betrayed that. But I did what I could to rectify that.”

Another priest who volunteered to testify, Leo Landry, told the investigators that he asked to be transferred to the New Hampshire diocese in 1965 after he had already molested several boys at parishes in Massachusetts, Virginia and Ontario. He was sent briefly for counseling, but when he made the transfer, church officials in New Hampshire did not check his background, he said.

Soon Mr. Landry was taking two boys about 13 or 14 years old from his Somersworth, N.H., parish on camping trips, and performing sexual acts with them. After one trip, one of the boys’ parents contacted the then-bishop, Ernest J. Primeau, who told Mr. Landry to stay away from the boy but took no other action.

Mr. Landry was allowed to continue working in his parish, and in the late 1960’s molested several altar boys. In his next assignment, in Berlin, N.H., he enticed more boys by taking them to Boston Red Sox and Bruins games or out for ice cream.

By 1971, Mr. Landry told the investigators, he was becoming increasingly concerned about his behavior and the lack of action by the church in getting him psychological help, so he requested to be laicized, or dropped as a priest. The attorney general’s report noted that the diocese has no records of allegations ever made against him.

Comments are closed.