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Bishop in New Hampshire Refuses to Step Down Amid Concerns About Sex Abuse Scandal Role

May 10, 2002 | AP A New Hampshire bishop said he will not step down, despite mounting questions about his role in the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church.

"Even though some think I should step aside, Pope John Paul II appointed me to be your shepherd," John B. McCormack said Thursday in a written statement. "I will remain your servant and toil ceaselessly on your behalf as bishop of Manchester."

McCormack has been accused of ignoring warnings about abusive priests and helping shuffle them to new parishes when he was a top church official in Boston.

A petition drive calling for McCormack's resignation has been circulating through some of the state's churches, and on Wednesday The Union Leader of Manchester published a front page editorial calling for his resignation.

"The Diocese of Manchester now needs leadership that has not been tarnished by this scandal. In the best interest of all, he should step aside as bishop," the newspaper said.

McCormack acknowledged he made mistakes in the past, but said he has learned from them and will meet the challenge of keeping the church safe for everyone.

McCormack, 66, was secretary of ministerial personnel for the Boston Archdiocese from 1984 to 1994. He handled sexual abuse complaints against priests for Cardinal Bernard Law for several years.

In interviews last week, he said poor record keeping, a lack of understanding of the nature of sexual abuse, and simply being left out of the loop kept him from doing more to prevent Massachusetts priests from abusing children.

McCormack, who became bishop of the Diocese of Manchester in 1998, has said he wishes he had done more to keep children safe.

"I know, too, that the trust the Catholic people of New Hampshire have in their bishop is challenged by the manner in which I dealt with child sexual abuse by some priests in Boston," he said Thursday.

"Every day I pray that the Lord will help me to be a better bishop," McCormack said.

Meanwhile, a lawyer preparing a class-action lawsuit against the Diocese of Manchester said Thursday that dozens of alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests are ready to join the lawsuit.

Peter Hutchins would not specify the number of people, but said it has more than tripled since he first filed the lawsuit April 10.

The lawsuit, which still must be certified as class-action by a judge, accuses the diocese and its employees of conspiring to conceal the names of priests who abused children.

Also on Thursday, victims of clergy sexual abuse asked bishops in about 20 cities to help them lobby state legislators to make it easier to prosecute errant priests.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said it was undertaking the effort because it feels U.S. bishops will fail to set an abuse policy that fully protects children. A bishops' meeting next month will focus on drafting a protocol for handling molestation claims.

Representatives of the advocacy group delivered letters to bishops requesting their support for extending or eliminating criminal statutes of limitations and for requiring clergy in every state to report suspected abuse.

In other developments:

The prosecutor in Wayne County, Michigan, said his office was opening investigations into 16 priests suspected of sexual misconduct involving children. The Archdiocese of Detroit last week gave prosecutor Mike Duggan's office files containing allegations against 37 priests.

An 81-year-old priest accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing two mentally impaired men surrendered to the Santa Clara County (California) Sheriff's Department, authorities said.

Also in California, the Diocese of Monterey unveiled a tougher sexual misconduct policy that includes fingerprinting and background checks for priests and others in the diocese who deal with children.

A prosecutor issued a subpoena to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, demanding records dating to 1978 as part of a probe into whether church personnel abused children. The investigation began in March after the church disclosed that "fewer than five" priests accused of sexually abusing teens are still working in the archdiocese.

In Kentucky, six people sued the Archdiocese of Louisville, claiming church officials were aware that clergy were abusing minors but failed to act.

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