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2nd Group Votes To Advocate Resignation of Bishop

Apr 7, 2003 | AP

A second lay Catholic reform group decided Sunday to push for the resignation of Bishop John McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian of the Diocese of Manchester.

New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful said two-thirds of its steering committee, including representatives from nine affiliates across the state, voted to call for the resignations. The group, based nationally in Newton, Mass., says it has about 600 members in the state.

"Both observed a general disregard for the testimony of sexual abuse victims and an unwillingness to remove predatory priests from contact with children," said Jeffrey Blanchard, steering committee chairman.

The group noted a recent attorney general's report, made public recently, that criticized the way the diocese has handled allegations and admissions of sexual abuse by priests.

Diocese spokesman Patrick McGee said he could not respond directly to the vote until the diocese has had a chance to review it, but he commented on the general direction of the diocese.

"Bishop McCormack is committed to leading the diocese forward. One of indications of that is his plan for the future calling for more involvement of the laity and clear and strong policies involving sexual abuse," he said.

McCormack and Christian have acknowledged making mistakes and McCormack has said the diocese is sorry for the harm done, but he and Christian have said they have no intention of resigning.

Since becoming bishop of New Hampshire in 1998, McCormack has instituted aggressive policies to protect children, and in a 12-page response to the attorney general's report, the diocese described its toughened approach to dealing with molesters in the clergy.

The attorney general's report said Roman Catholic leaders in New Hampshire for decades ignored the danger posed by molesting priests even those who admitted guilt while misleading civil authorities and victims about the extent of sex abuse charges.

The Voice of the Faithful said it voted after patient discussion of the record of McCormack in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Christian in New Hampshire. It said the two bishops cannot command widespread respect, leaving the diocese without effective pastoral leadership. It said healing can't take place and successful daily operations of the diocese restored without the current leaders leaving.

It noted that some faithful churchgoers have stopped attending Mass, that contributions are down significantly and that priests have shared their pain in homilies and public statements.

"We as laity have both the right and obligation under Vatican II and canon law to make our concerns known, which we are doing today in letters to Pope John Paul II and Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of the USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).

Another group, New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership, already has begun a campaign to force the two bishops to leave, saying the men played significant roles in the priest sexual abuse crisis and lack the moral authority to lead. Group members began handing out information at two churches in Dover on Sunday, and planned to continue the action at other churches every Sunday.

McCormack also has been under attack for his handling of abuse cases from 1984 to 1994 as a deputy for Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, who resigned this winter.

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