MANCHESTER — A New Hampshire priest has been defrocked, 32 years after Catholic church officials suspended him over allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, the Diocese of Manchester announced on Tuesday.
Philip A. Petit, who was ordained in April 1980, worked at parishes in Manchester, Dover, Berlin, Merrimack, Nashua and Plaistow, as well as at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. He was removed from the ministry in 1986 and had no permission to function as a priest since then, the diocese said.
In the early 2000s, the diocese suspended the faculties of many priests as a priest-sexual abuse scandal exploded in Boston and New Hampshire.
But officials stressed that the suspended priests were still technically priests and could only be defrocked by the Vatican.
On Aug. 28, New Hampshire Bishop Bishop Peter A. Libasci decreed Petit dismissed from the clerical state and “dispensed him from all obligations subsequent to sacred ordination,” the diocese wrote.
Libasci did so after receiving a mandate from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican in Rome, the diocese said.
“Mr. Petit’s dismissal follows credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors and misconduct involving adults. By virtue of this decree, Mr. Petit has no faculties to act, function, or present himself as a priest,” the diocese wrote.
Petit received little mention during the priest-abuse scandal, in part because he had been suspended for four years before priest abuse came to light in the region. He was named in a 2003 report by the New Hampshire Attorney General into a cover-up by the diocese.
He figured most prominently in articles about documents that diocesan officials had destroyed regarding him and another priest.
Evidence of the destruction is contained in letters that former Manchester Bishop Odore Gendron wrote in 1986 and 1989 to Petit. Copies of the letters were filed in a lawsuit brought by victims against the diocese.
In the first letter, Gendron assured Petit that he would “certainly destroy all documents, notes, etc., referring to your treatment” for sexual misconduct.
Gendron went on to say he would keep a 1982 letter from Petit’s doctor saying the priest was making progress and that an incident in Dover was isolated.
“This letter was written after the situation in Dover, requiring your transfer to Berlin,” Gendron wrote. He added, “I feel I need to retain this document for legal protection should any questions ever surface about your reassignments in the diocese.
“With the exception of this particular document, everything else has been destroyed.”
In the same letter, Gendron told Petit the diocese also was increasing his monthly stipend by $50.
In issuing its statement about Petit on Tuesday, the diocese said it would make no further comment.
It encouraged anyone with information about sexual abuse in the church to report the information to law enforcement. Further information is available at www.catholicnh.org/safety.