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N.H. Bishop Says Priest Sex Less Serious If Not With Parishioner

Dec 24, 2002 | AP

Questioned under oath about the church abuse scandal, New Hampshire’s bishop suggested that it is less serious for a priest to have sex with someone from outside the parish than with a parishioner.

"You know, one is an activity where you have a trusted relationship with a parishioner. The other is an activity where you’re away from the parish and you’re off on your own," Bishop John B. McCormack said in depositions obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.

McCormack was discussing the Rev. Roland Cote’s relationship with a youth while he was assigned to St. Patrick’s Church in Newport during the 1980s.

"I’m very concerned about that; he was a young person. But it’s quite different from being with a parishioner," McCormack said.

The depositions, which have not been made public, are in civil lawsuits in Massachusetts.

In them, McCormack also acknowledged Cote paid for the sex during the five- to six-year relationship.

"Was it brought to your attention that Father Cote had paid for sex with this adolescent?" lawyer Robert Sherman asked McCormack in a deposition Oct. 1.

"It was not brought to my attention at the time. I think I learned this later, probably even last week," McCormack said.

Sherman gave no details of the payment and did not say how he learned about it.

In June, McCormack assigned Cote to another St. Patrick’s, in Jaffrey, without informing the church about Cote’s history. He said he did so because he did not consider Cote a threat.

After the AP reported details of the allegations, Cote acknowledged the affair and resigned last month.

Cote has said the boy was 18 when the relationship began. But prosecutors believed he was either 15 or 16 and conducted a criminal investigation this spring, sources familiar with the case have told the AP. The investigation ended when prosecutors determined the boy was at least 16, New Hampshire’s age of consent, one source said Monday.

The youth’s age is significant partly because the Diocese of Manchester considers anyone under 18 a minor. McCormack has pledged that a single credible allegation of sex with a minor will bar a priest from active service in New Hampshire.

Calls to Cote and the bishop were not immediately returned Monday. McCormack, who became bishop of New Hampshire in 1998, has been dogged for nearly a year by criticism of how he handled allegations of abuse while he was a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston. Law’s resignation on Dec. 13 intensified calls for McCormack to step down.

Also this month, McCormack averted unprecedented criminal charges against the New Hampshire diocese in a settlement with the state. As part of the agreement, he acknowledged the church’s handing of abuse allegations had harmed children.

Before being transferred to Jaffrey, Cote served at St. Aloysius of Gonzaga in Nashua.

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