A top aide to Bishop John McCormack in the Boston archdiocese quit after two years because victims’ stories of sexual abuse and the church’s slow response weighed so heavily on her.
“I stated three reasons in a very short interview why I was leaving,” said Sister Catherine Mulkerrin in a deposition released yesterday: “Spiritually, psychologically and physically I could no longer do it. I was completely worn out by it.”
Mulkerrin worked for McCormack in Boston from 1992 to 1994, interviewing more than 200 victims of nearly 100 abusive priests. She said she never received an allegation she didn’t believe credible. During that time, McCormack devoted his attention to the accused priests, hearing their sides of the stories, arranging for their treatment and often, their return to ministry.
In the past year, McCormack has defended himself against allegations that he mishandled that role and covered up the abuse by saying he did not understand the depth of pain the priests had caused their victims. But Mulkerrin’s deposition, combined with dozens of internal church documents released in the last year, show he had been warned repeatedly of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse within the church.
Mulkerrin so frequently urged McCormack to alert the parishes of the abuse of their priests that she referred to herself in one memo as a “broken record.” And she was deeply concerned about McCormack’s willingness to return abusive priests to ministry after treatment without adequate supervision.
“When I heard where a person might be placed, I expressed my consternation,” Mulkerrin told lawyers at her deposition, which was taken last year as part of a civil lawsuit against McCormack and the Boston archdiocese. “I expressed concern. ‘What are we thinking of? What are you thinking of?’ ”
She also told investigators she was surprised to later find out that McCormack had withheld previous allegations about priests accused again during her watch. And sometimes, McCormack’s account of an allegation’s details did not match hers.
Once McCormack questioned an accuser’s credibility when Mulkerrin had not. And another time, McCormack said that an accused priest had pushed his housekeeper in anger when the housekeeper had told McCormack’s office that the priest had pulled out her hair and pushed her down the steps.
“I think (McCormack) had more a feel for priests than victims,” Mulkerrin said.
Mulkerrin now lives in Massachusetts and leads spiritual retreats for parish groups. She could not be reached for comment yesterday. McCormack’s spokesman, Pat McGee, did not return a message.
McCormack left Boston to become the bishop of New Hampshire in 1998. In the last year, McCormack’s critics on this side of the border have been increasingly unwilling to oblige McCormack’s request that his past be left in Boston.
This month, two Catholic activist groups in New Hampshire have called on McCormack to resign. When asked to explain their decision, members of those groups have cited the drip, drip, drip of information revealed over the last year in court records such as Mulkerrin’s deposition.
Mulkerrin joined McCormack in the Boston archdiocese in 1992 at the request of then-Cardinal Bernard Law. She said she had no idea until she started that so many priests had molested children.
Mulkerrin interviewed more than 200 victims in her two years, and her notes that have been released in the last year demonstrate that she noted deeply personal details of the abuse and suffering.
During her deposition nearly 12 years later, many of the victims remained present in Mulkerrin’s mind. She recalled their particular circumstances and even which of their family members she had interviewed. Rarely did she pass on a question because she couldn’t recall the answer.
Attorney Roderick MacLeish asked Mulkerrin during her deposition to describe her experience over the two years she worked with McCormack. “I would describe myself as almost perpetually sad,” she said.
McCormack did not actively oppose Mulkerrin’s suggestion that parishes be alerted that a priest had been accused of abuse, but neither did he pursue it, she said. Mulkerrin said he simply never discussed her proposal, even when she recommended that the priest be identified not by name but by assignment dates.
Mulkerrin had read about a Minneapolis diocese (as well as other denominations) adopting the practice and believed it was a way to protect and help other victims.
“My deepest hope was that more people would feel free to come forward because so many of the people I had met had waited years,” she said. “And (I) did not want it to happen to anyone else. My abiding concern was the healing of the victims.”
MacLeish pressed Mulkerrin on her reasons.
“Did you think it was morally the right thing to do, Sister Catherine, to notify these parishes?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Did you think it was spiritually the right thing to do?”
“Yes,” she said.
Did you think it was consistent with the mission of the church to notify these parishes?”
“I need to change the tense,” Mulkerrin said. “I do think those things.”