Despite pressure, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester said Monday it will not rule out destroying the personnel records of deceased priests.
“It’s not our intention to start doing that at this time, but we are looking at the entire policy,” spokesman Patrick McGee said.
Last week, two groups critical of how the church has handled molesting priests called on the diocese to preserve the personnel records of all priests. Doing so would help victims heal and would preserve an important record of wrongdoing, the groups said.
In a written response Monday, the diocese said it is developing a comprehensive new record-keeping policy, but did not provide details.
Record-keeping became an issue when the diocese acknowledged last week that then-Bishop Odore Gendron destroyed records during the 1980s that detailed sexual abuse of children by two priests.
Last month, the diocese reached a settlement with the state that averted unprecedented criminal charges over its failure to protect children from abusive priests. The agreement allows the church to destroy the records of deceased priests – a provision that prompted the critics to ask the diocese to preserve all records.
The Rev. Edward Arsenault said the records Gendron destroyed are the only ones the diocese is aware of that documented abuse. He said the files were private medical records provided to the church on condition they be destroyed.
Arsenault said no such records had been destroyed since he began handling sexual abuse complaints for the diocese in November 2000, and that he was not aware of records being destroyed by his immediate predecessors.
But Senior Assistant Attorney General William Delker, who sorted through more than 10,000 pages of church records as part of the state’s investigation of the diocese, said it is obvious many documents are missing.
“In some places you can tell because somebody else refers to something (that isn’t in the file), or witnesses can tell you, I know this and that existed, Delker said.
McGee would not respond to Delker’s assertion without specifics of what investigators think is missing.
Delker said it can be a felony to destroy documents to cover up a crime, but the statute of limitations is six years. The attorney general’s office has asked lawmakers to consider extending that limit.
Delker said he saw no evidence of illegal destruction of records within the past six years.
Last week, retired Monsignor Wilfrid Paradis said that while researching a history of the Catholic Church in New Hampshire, he found at least a half-dozen personnel files that were missing routine documents. He said he suspected a cover-up.
Arsenault said Monday that Paradis has “admitted that he was only speculating, had drawn a conclusion not supported by any facts and indicated that his comments were injudicious.
In a telephone interview, Paradis acknowledged he has no proof of wrongdoing.
The documents are to be released next month.
“I will reserve this judgment and simply allow each person to come to his or her own conclusion,” Paradis said. “I wouldn’t have said it unless this is what I was thinking.”