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Files Show Bishop Dismissed Complaints

Jul 8, 2002 | AP

Bishop John McCormack twice dismissed complaints that two priests had molested children in the 1980s and '90s after the two clergymen said they'd done nothing wrong, according to the bishop's deposition in a Massachusetts lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by three men who say they were molested by Boston-area priest Paul Shanley in the 1980s. It accuses church officials in Boston of failing to stop the abuse. At the time, McCormack was Cardinal Bernard Law's deputy in the Boston Archdiocese.

A transcript of the deposition was reviewed by The Associated Press. The transcript has not been made public.

Patrick McGee, McCormack's spokesman, noted that the deposition is incomplete. McCormack's deposition is expected to continue, though no date has been set.

"We're disappointed that in spite of the judge's order in Massachusetts that this portion of the deposition was released," McGee said. "He's not opposed to having it released once it's complete. This part of the deposition does not represent his complete testimony."

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, said church officials would not comment on the contents of any deposition until the court makes them public.

Depositions taken in the case were at first released almost immediately. But the practice was put on hold after church officials asked for a 30-day period to review transcripts for errors. Media organizations and the plaintiffs' lawyers appealed.

Massachusett Judge Constance Sweeney has not issued a final ruling, but last month admonished the plaintiffs' lawyers for media briefings and statements she said could taint a potential jury pool.

According to the reviewed transcript, McCormack was asked by plaintiff's attorneys on June 4 about three Massachusetts priests: Shanley and the Rev. Ronald Paquin, who have both pleaded innocent to child rape charges, and the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham.

Paquin was removed from active ministry in 1990 after allegations that he molested two boys in Haverhill, Mass. A year later, another priest told church officials that Paquin was "romancing" a teen-age boy, and McCormack was asked during the deposition why he did not alert child welfare authorities.

"I spoke with Father Paquin," McCormack said. "He assured me there was no sexual contact, that this was a boy he had known, that he was trying to be helpful to, so I took him at his word."

Law reinstated Paquin in 1998.

In the case of Birmingham, a Gloucester, Mass., parent asked the bishop in 1987 whether Birmingham was the same priest he had heard abused children elsewhere, according to the transcript. The bishop acknowledged having reservations about Birmingham, but said he advised the man not to worry.

McCormack said he confronted Birmingham and the priest assured him he was "clean." Birmingham died in 1989.

During the deposition, McCormack also said he told people they could go to the police, but that many people wanted confidentiality. He said he would report alleged molestation to prosecutors himself — and did so once — if he believed it was continuing and involved a minor.

McCormack, who became bishop of Manchester in 1998, said he did not report Paquin and Birmingham because both assured him they were not abusing anyone.

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