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Documents to Shed Light on Handling of N.H. Church Abuse Complaints

Mar 3, 2003 | AP

Bishop John McCormack apologized to victims of sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests Monday, but the church also said it did not "necessarily agree" with everything in a state report detailing how the Manchester Diocese mishandled abuse cases.

The attorney general's office was scheduled to release a nearly 200-page report Monday with the evidence it would have used in seeking criminal charges against the diocese.

The state also was set to release 9,000 pages of church documents including personnel files, correspondence and other material to accompany the report.

A small portion of the documents were being held back at the last minute because a priest named in them got a court order Monday barring their release, said Will Delker, a senior assistant attorney general. That delayed the release of the state's report.

The diocese put out its own report Monday to explain how it handled allegations against priests in the past and to contrast that with how such cases are dealt with now. The church said it will now removes a priest after one credible allegation of abuse.

"On behalf of myself and leaders of the church in New Hampshire past and present we are sorry for our inadequacies, but most of all we are sorry for the harm done to persons who were abused by priests and to the Catholic faithful who have been scandalized," McCormack wrote in an introductory letter.

In an unprecedented settlement in December, the diocese agreed its conduct had harmed children and that it probably would have been convicted of child endangerment, a misdemeanor, but for the settlement.

The state's report planned to focus on eight clergymen, The Associated Press has learned. Officials have said the eight were not selected because of the seriousness of the allegations against them, but because their cases contained strong evidence the diocese had mishandled the molestation complaints.

Thousands of pages of church documents have been released in Massachusetts during the past year by lawyers for victims and alleged victims suing the church. And three weeks ago, a grand jury in New York issued a scathing report accusing the Diocese of Rockville Centre of sheltering molesters and failing to protect children.

The New Hampshire documents and reports may provide an even more comprehensive look at the inner workings of a diocese than those in Boston or Rockville Centre, however.

Though the New Hampshire diocese resisted providing the documents to prosecutors during their investigation last year, church officials agreed to their public release as part of the settlement.

McCormack is named in the documents and state report, but prosecutors focused on incidents prior to 1998, when he became bishop of Manchester.

In his letter, McCormack said one of the most important lessons the church has learned is that "a person who has sexually abused a minor cannot be adequately supervised or monitored."

But the diocese also said it doesn't "necessarily agree with all aspects of (the state's) final analysis." The report said the church could have mounted a vigorous defense if charged criminally, but doing so would not have helped victims.

Two of the eight priests at the center of the state investigation are in prison for criminal sexual assault convictions. The six others have been accused of abuse in civil lawsuits.

Among them is the Rev. Paul Aube, who has acknowledged molesting several minors during the 1970s.

Aube became a key part of the state investigation when he told prosecutors last year that church officials insisted he continue working with children even after he admitted sexual misconduct with minors and asked for help. The diocese has not commented on Aube's claims.

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