Manchester diocese falls short, says atty gen’l

Manchester diocese falls short, says atty gen’l

A few years ago the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, settled a criminal investigation by the state attorney general’s office by agreeing to a series of requirements, an unprecedented settlement. At the time, many observers wondered whether this agreement had an expiration date, or would such oversight go on forever, and whether Bishop John McCormack was giving up too much of the Church’s autonomy. But considering what he and his predecessors were alleged to have done, maybe he didn’t have a choice.

Now the attorney general says the diocese is not living up to its side of the agreement. An audit found that the diocese was not meeting “abuse-prevention guidelines” approved by the courts.

The audit noted there are “critical gaps” in programs to protect children from sexual abuse and said church leaders have been reticent in complying. The 117-parish diocese relies too heavily on self-reporting and self-policing, the audit said. Auditors criticized the “tone at the top,” particularly in regard to the Rev. Edward Arsenault, who heads efforts to prevent and report sexual abuse.

“In conducting this year’s audit, KPMG encountered resistance from certain corners of the diocese, most notable from … Father Edward Arsenault,” Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said. “Since Father Arsenault is the face of the program to many of the employees and volunteers within the diocese, his attitude to the program is very important in terms of the reflection of the diocese’s overall commitment to the process.”

The details of the “critical gaps” are not given, so I’m left wondering whether Catholics might find the attorney general’s idea of an adequate program to be moral. Is it just the reporting and oversight that’s the problem or programs of instruction?

Another good question, which arose when the agreement was signed, is that since the attorney general’s overall mission is different from the Catholic Church’s whether he might require the diocese to increase its sex-abuse prevention programs at the expense of, say, religious education.

It bears watching because this as a test case concerning the separation of Church and state and criminal investigation of the Scandal.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli