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N.H. Bishop Admits `Tragic' Errors

May 3, 2002 | The Boston Herald Embattled Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., has acknowledged reassigning Catholic priests accused of molesting children, but like his former supervisor, Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston, he asserts poor file-keeping kept him from knowing the extent of those priests' problems.

``This is a terrible, embarrassing and tragic thing that we didn't have the information that, if we knew now, this never would have happened,'' McCormack told The Union Leader of Manchester in a report published yesterday. ``All I can say is it will not happen'' in New Hampshire, he said. ``We want to make sure we have a filing system that is integrated that doesn't allow cases to fall through the cracks.''

McCormack has been beset by revelations that while serving as director of ministerial personnel in the Archdiocese of Boston in the 1990s, he ignored warnings about abusive priests and had a hand in shuffling them to new parishes.

In lawsuits, he is accused of ignoring complaints against priests with long histories of abuse allegations, including defrocked and convicted child molester John J. Geoghan, and the Revs. Paul R. Shanley, arrested yesterday in San Diego for child rape, and the late Joseph E. Birmingham.

A Cape Cod man, David Coleman, said McCormack ignored abuse complaints made by Coleman in 1984 against another onetime Archdiocese of Boston priest, the Rev. Richard Coughlin. Coughlin left the Bay State in 1965 and ran a boys' choir in Orange County, Calif., until 1993, when he was arrested for molesting children.

Coleman said he told McCormack of abuse by Coughlin. McCormack claims he passed those charges on to California, but diocesan officials there have told the Herald they received no warning.

Documents released in the Shanley case show McCormack wrote to the priest in 1993 about worries Shanley had that his past would catch up to him. One document from McCormack read, ``regarding your idea of a safe house'' for problem priests, ``we have a place in mind.''

McCormack told the paper he wishes he had paid closer attention to signs of trouble with Shanley, who is accused of molesting children for three decades and promulgating man-boy love.

McCormack, who was put in charge of Shanley in 1990 by Law and who left Boston for Manchester in 1998, told the paper he did not think Shanley meant what he said or would act on it.

He called Shanley a ``pretty sick guy'' and said he was angry the priest ``duped'' him into believing he was out of money and taking on second jobs to support himself while on sick leave in southern California during the early 1990s.

Claiming poor filing is at the root of the church's mishandling of many priests, McCormack said when he took over Shanley's case, he did not learn of abuse alleged against Shanley, dating back to 1967.

He also said he was unaware of the now 71-year-old priest's public advocacy of man-boy sex, though church records contain numerous letters about the matter, including one from the Vatican in 1979.

Law was roundly castigated two weeks ago when he asserted in a letter to priests that ``inadequate'' record keeping was the cause of the church's molestation crisis.

McCormack defended the often cordial tone of his letters to Shanley. He said he has known Shanley since they attended seminary together. ``I was still trying to be kind, but also was trying to carry out my role.

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