The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester is cooperating fully with the Attorney General’s Office in the state’s investigation into sexual abuse of minors by priests, a spokesman for the church stated emphatically yesterday.
“We do know that the Attorney General’s Office is conducting an investigation,” said Patrick McGee, the diocese’s public relations specialist. “ . . . We once again are saying we intend to cooperate fully with that investigation.”
Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin this week said he was hoping talks with the diocese would “lead to open cooperation,” but suggested he was less than satisfied with the information the diocese has produced thus far. He said investigators don’t yet have some of the records they want.
“I can only tell you, that which we seek we have not in their entirety gotten,” McLaughlin told an Associated Press reporter.
The discussion about what the church is or is not providing was prompted by a New Hampshire Sunday News report this week that quoted McLaughlin saying he was certain crimes had been committed and he was examining whether any upper-level church personnel could be prosecuted for “aiding and abetting” sexual abuse of children.
The remarks raised questions about whether New Hampshire prosecutors might convene a grand jury. It was reported this week that the Massachusetts attorney general has convened a grand jury to investigate the Boston Archdiocese’s handling of the scandal.
Attorney Charles G. Douglas III said McLaughlin could be signaling the church that it would be wise to turn over the evidence willingly.
“I sense what McLaughlin is saying is: ‘Produce it, or else I will have you bring it to a grand jury.’ That’s their dilemma.”
When deposed by lawyers in Massachusetts handling civil suits against the church, New Hampshire Bishop John B. McCormack, a former aide to Cardinal Bernard Law, said the Boston Archdiocese kept locked away in the chancellery a secret file containing communications regarding sexual misconduct by priests.
Only the cardinal and his designee had access to it, said McCormack, who once handled these matters for the cardinal.
The Manchester Diocese apparently has such a file, or at least a personnel file that can be accessed only by the bishop or the vicar, according to McGee.
Attorney Douglas, who is suing the church on behalf of a dozen alleged abuse victims, said the church should expect both the civil attorneys and prosecutors to fight for access to the file.
“It’s like holding a one-pound steak in front of a Doberman and being surprised when he jumps and snaps,” Douglas said. “If it’s harmless, why is it secret?”
If the church claimed it was privileged information, Douglas said, a judge would probably review it in private to determine whether it was relevant to the civil cases or a criminal investigation.
Douglas said investigators would be looking for the same documentation that civil attorneys are seeking. This would include complaints made against priests over the past 20 to 40 years and a paper trail on what the church did to discipline priests or restrict their contact with children.
Douglas said lawyers would be looking for “any interdepartmental memos back and forth from the bishop to a monsignor or to others around the state, notes on telephone calls,” or any documentation that would reveal “what they knew and what they did with it.”
The church is probably weighing the political and public relations considerations and the need to show it is trying to best serve the victims versus legal concerns and pressure from church lawyers who will advise: “Make them fight for it,” Douglas said.
Manchester attorney John Kacavas said McLaughlin’s office is probably seeking evidence that could be used to prosecute church hierarchy using some kind of accomplice theory.
“They’re looking for a smoking gun in a sense, documentation that says the diocese essentially knowingly turned a blind eye to what these priests were doing,” said Kacavas, who is a former state prosecutor for the Attorney General’s Office.
Kacavas said he believes a prosecutor, armed with enough proof to make a case, could probably establish a creative theory of liability against those within the church who did nothing to stop the accused priests, thereby aiding and abetting their continued abuse. “I think the language in the New Hampshire accomplice liability statue can probably be massaged to make out an offense,” said Kacavas.
He said language in the statute was changed in January pertaining to the state of mind required for someone to be considered an accomplice.
“The language may still be confusing, but I believe the revised statute makes it arguable now, whether the accomplice acts knowingly, purposely, recklessly or negligently, as long as they aid and abet,” said Kacavas.
Kacavas said he thinks that while the Attorney General’s Office could also be looking at other things, such as obstruction of justice, it sounds more likely that a grand jury will be convened in New Hampshire, if it hasn’t been already, to determine whether crimes have been committed by church leaders.
“I think it’s the attorney general’s obligation to investigate whether or not crimes were committed here in New Hampshire or whether crimes committed in Boston had consequence in New Hampshire. It’s his obligation and duty to ensure any offense is prosecuted, if there’s proof,” said Kacavas.