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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  • Maybe, if the Pope realigned the diocesan structure in the USA, all this would go away.

    You know.  Dissolve three and create four new ones?  Cross state boundaries, etc…

    It is the Universal Church, and he can do what he wants.

    There has never been any abuse in the Diocese of the Merrimack Valley, or the Brockton, MA diocese.

  • Dom, I’ve done a preliminary analysis of this situation here.  The way the audit was done does not give me warm fuzzies as a member of this Diocese and state.

  • To relieve Dom’s mind, the AG has no power to determine what is in the diocese’s policy or to determine its training materials, which were developed by National Catholic Risk Retention Group, a self-insurance group of about 60 dioceses.

    What the AG does have power to do is determine if the diocese’s sexual abuse policy is being implemented in a way that effectively communicates what the law requires about reporting suspected abuse. And that in all cases the law is being honored.

    It is because the diocese was not following the law before, and had to admit that a planned indictment of the diocese for criminally endangering children, with perjury included (bishop lying to the court) that a series of audits were agreed to by the diocese. The diocese had to admit there was sufficient evidence for a likely conviction.

    The Rev. Edward Arsenault, the one the AG’s auditors complained of word games and unwillingness to admit problems, had told the former AG that the diocese had always abided by the law. Arsenault did not include the misleading admission that the diocese had never reported any case ever because all survivors came forward as adults.

    But the AG found in his investigation that, “The evidence gathered during the investigation reveals instances where the Diocese ‘had reason to suspect,’ if not direct proof, that a *child* was being abused by a priest, yet, it did not report the conduct to the Department of Health and Human Services.”

    To understand some background about Arsenault, read about Priest A who he did not report to the AG for four months in 2005 because he believed he did not have to under the agreement with the state. You see, no child had been sexually abused even though Priest A viewed up to 10,000 pages of pornography with adults and teens, including incest, and possible child porn. But the feds could not prosecute because the images were only in the computer’s temporary folder, not downloaded. Go to and then click on Exhibit G, Priest A to read the case. I hope that link works, if not try the AG’s office at and click on diocese report at the right.

    Arsenault’s actions and manner rightfully earned him every criticism in the second audit, despite his lawyer’s smooth words to the contrary.

  • Let me save folks the effort – here is the AG’s report on Priest A. The Delegate is Rev. Arsenault. This will have to be in two sections, because of the word limit, but I hope it can be fully published that way. Sorry for the length, but it’s important to establish some of the problems in this diocese.

    Addendum- Priest A
    The Associate Delegate initially advised KPMG on June 13, 2005 that
    the Diocese did not maintain background screening documents for
    Priest A because he was not in active ministry after the Diocese signed
    the Agreement with the Attorney General’s office in December of 2002.
    However, KPMG conducted independent research, which included
    reviewing a 2004 church bulletin and the Delegate Office’s PGC
    spreadsheet, that appeared to indicate that Priest A was in active
    ministry after the Agreement.1 (footnote in next post)

    According to his personnel file, Priest A has been ordained for less
    than six years and was assigned to a parish in northern New
    Hampshire in 2003. KPMG noted that the personnel file contained a
    letter which referenced how Priest A was “intimidating the children of
    this parish” by grabbing and forcing them to quickly vest (as altar
    servers). The letter was written by the parish deacon on 9/26/03 five
    days after Priest A was involved in a different incident with a CCD class
    of 9th and 10th grade students.

    According to several students who were in attendance, Priest A used
    graphic sexual language in class on 9/21/03 when describing how he
    was “married to the Church.” The matter was apparently referred to
    the local police department but the Delegate (Fr. Arsenault) confirmed
    on 8/12/05 that the Diocese did not notify the Diocesan Review Board
    of the incident at that time. The local police informed the local parish
    that there was no evidence that a crime was committed.

    Priest A resigned from the parish on 9/27/03 and was admitted to a
    psychiatric hospital on 10/9/03. He was later sent to St. Luke Institute’s
    Halfway House and its Continuing Care Program where the doctors
    diagnosed his medical conditions. One of the conditions of Priest A’s
    continuing care contract was that he would not access the Internet for
    six months and would be restricted in his use after that time.

    A 9/23/04 memo in the file from the Delegate to the Bishop indicated
    that Priest A was going to limit his ministry to two other parishes in the
    central part of the state while residing in the rectory of a third parish.

    The Delegate told KPMG on 8/12/05 that he spoke with all three
    pastors about Priest A’s past and any future “budding signs” that they
    should be aware of. According to the Delegate, it was the pastors’
    responsibility to monitor Priest A’s activities from that point forward
    since it wasn’t his practice to establish a formal written policy outlining
    their duties.

    According to his personnel file, Priest A used the computers at the
    rectory where he was residing to access pornographic websites from
    11/21/04 until 1/22/05 when the parish’s network administrator
    discovered the data on one of the computers.

    The matter was
    immediately referred to the Delegate’s Office and their investigator, Jim
    Lundt. Based upon Mr. Lundt’s investigation and his referral to the
    Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), it was
    determined that the computer and temporary file(s) used by Priest A
    contained 6,000 to 10,000 pornographic images, including three
    possible images of child pornography, and various website links to
    adult and child pornography.

    Because the three images were
    contained in a temporary file and were not downloaded onto the
    computer’s hard drive, the federal authorities stated that Priest A had
    not committed any federal crimes.
    See next post for the rest.

  • KPMG noted that Priest A’s personnel file also included a
    memorandum written by the Delegate on 2/16/05. The Delegate met
    with Priest A at St. Luke’s Institute and noted that Priest A admitted to
    accessing pornographic websites which contained images of adults,
    teens and one site which contained “incest.”

    The NH Attorney General investigator, who is responsible for filing new
    reports received from the Diocese, told KPMG that the Diocese’s
    attorney stated that the Diocese did not believe that their 6/30/05
    referral regarding Priest A’s activity at the Rectory was related to the
    Agreement. Instead, Attorney Quirk stated that the Diocese wanted to
    forward the information to the Attorney General’s office comply with the
    spirit of the Agreement. The Delegate also told KPMG on 8/12/05 that
    he and the Diocese decided to report both incidents from 2003 and
    2004/2005 to the NH Attorney General’s office because they were
    indicative of Priest A’s behavior, even if the first incident did not involve
    the sexual abuse of a minor.

    (The Delegate also stated that any
    previous failure by the Diocese or the parishes to ensure that Priest A
    completed all of the background forms and a criminal records check
    while he was in active ministry was “an oversight.”)

    The Policy and Code both state that church personnel are prohibited
    from possessing, viewing, or sending any sexually-oriented or morally
    inappropriate printed materials, websites or emails on church property.

    Furthermore, KPMG conducted additional research and learned that
    Priest A might have committed a felony under New Hampshire law
    (RSA 649-A) if he possessed child pornography.
    KPMG referred this issue to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s
    office for further action.

    1 On January 31, 2006, post-review, the Diocese sought to clarify that Priest A was on Leave of Absence.

  • Carolyn, might I ask exactly what you’re trying to say here, in specific?  I readily admit there are problems at the Diocese but one also needs to remember there has been a significantly antagonistic relationship between the Diocese and the AG’s office ever since the beginning of this whole situation.  Many people I know feel the Diocese is being targeted unfairly, even given what has transpired, and treated as criminals before they’re even investigated.

    If this is the type of relationship there is, there should be no wonder that there are problems.  The Diocese, frankly, still doesn’t know what it’s doing in some areas but yet it doesn’t trust the one organization that’s charged with oversight.  And that oversight organization is altogether too willing to translate any sign of hesitancy or guardedness into a sign of intransigence or cover-up.  Given the nature of this relationship, this of course becomes a feedback loop.

    Your concerns regarding the Priest A report are well-founded and to me a sign of this broken relationship.  Let’s remember too that technically Fr. Arsenault was, as far as I can tell, abiding by the letter of the arrangement; whether it was in the spirit of the arrangement is clearly a much larger problem. I wonder, frankly, if this arrangement can work long-term.  It may survive the audit process, but just surviving it isn’t what it was intended to do and just surviving it may leave issues undiscovered.

    At this point, I’m really not sure of the best way for the parties to move forward from here.  Right now they seem to be trending away from each other rather than coming to a consensus.  Both sides need to adjust their approaches and both need to deal more evenly with the other party; at least that’s what I can see from my unprivileged viewpoint.  Do you have a different view?