MANCHESTER — Catholic Church leaders in New Hampshire have added a page to their website that lists dozens of priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse going back to 1950.
Announced Wednesday by the Diocese of Manchester, the “Restoring Trust” website provides the year each priest was ordained, his parish assignments and his status, which ranges from criminal conviction to being defrocked to “assigned to a life of prayer and penance.”
“This is meant as an act of ownership and accountability. It is my hope that by making this information available, we are holding ourselves accountable to the evils of the past, and offering timely assistance, support and resources to those individuals and families who have been affected by the sexual abuse of a minor,” said Bishop Peter Libasci in a statement released Wednesday morning.
The link to the list is at the bottom of the “Restoring Hope” page of the Church website, beneath a statement by Libasci, 24 FAQs and links to other pages.
Diocesan spokesman Bevin Kennedy said all but two of the names have been available to the public in the past, either through the diocese, the Attorney General’s office or the media. The website, she said, is an attempt to aggregate them in one place and a recognition that the flow of information in the past has not been ideal.
Libasci also said “On behalf of my predecessors and the Church in New Hampshire, I am sorry. I seek your forgiveness for the grave sins of abuse and betrayal of trust that representatives of the Church committed.”
The list includes 73 names of priests, of whom 50 are dead. Most of the referenced cases have been concluded; just one is listed as pending. Thirty-four of the identified priests died before either civil or church authorities determined they had probably abused a minor. Four cases involve men who left the priesthood voluntarily before the allegations arose.
Seven are members of religious orders, over which the diocese has limited control. Those priests are no longer in New Hampshire.
Kennedy said the actions of accused priests have no bearing on sacraments such as marriage and baptism they once performed.
“If the priest was validly ordained at the time of the sacrament, the sacrament is still valid,” said Kennedy.
New Hampshire church officials said other diocese and religious orders have added similar pages to their official websites.
“I think a lot of institutions are trying to come clean with what’s happened,” said Peter E. Hutchins, a Manchester lawyer who said he has represented 250 to 300 victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests. He currently represents about four.
Hutchins said he and the Diocese of Manchester are using a system set up when current Attorney General Gordon MacDonald was representing the diocese.
Hutchins recalled Feb. 15, 2002, the day the diocese first made public the names of 14 predatory priests.
Even though some allegations against New Hampshire priests surfaced 17 years ago, victims have all sorts of reasons to wait years to come forward, Hutchins said. Some wait until their parents have died; others harbor feelings of guilt, he said.
Public acknowledgement helps quell those feelings, said Hutchins.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the diocese could have done much more, including disclosing priests who spent time in New Hampshire and were accused of abuse elsewhere; providing details of when the diocese first received allegations and what actions it took; and listing allegations against nuns, religious brothers and lay employees.
“Unfortunately, as we have come to expect, the list of names and details released today is incomplete and inadequate,” SNAP said in a statement distributed by Executive Director Zah Hiner. Hiner called on the attorney general to empanel a new grand jury and open a subsequent investigation.
Hiner said abuse at the hands of nuns is becoming more public, and the diocese should make a special effort to reach out to those potential survivors.
In a statement, the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said the diocese is taking a step toward accountability and called on the state to eliminate the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases.
“The reality is that the average age that a survivor of child sexual abuse discloses their experience is 52 years old.
“Disclosures of abuse do not fit into artificial timelines, and we believe that every survivor should have the right to seek justice no matter how much time has passed since the abuse occurred,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, public affairs director of the coalition.
“Each and every day, I pray that victim-survivors find healing,” Libasci said in his statement. “I also fervently pray that we never allow such darkness to enter our Church again. With these new efforts, I hope to continue on a path to restoring your trust.”
The list includes the names of two priests more recently reported.
David Morley was ordained in 1961 and voluntarily left the priesthood in 1994 for reasons that had nothing to do with child sexual abuse.
The diocese received allegations in 2011 about abuse involving Morley, Kennedy said. His last assignment was in 1986 at St. Thomas More parish in Durham.
The other involved Albert Burke (Burque), who was ordained in 1919 and is deceased.
His last assignment was in 1960 at St. Charles Church in Dover, but the church only received allegations against Burke in 2013.
“The allegations were investigated through the process we have in place and found to be probable,” Kennedy said.
In both cases, the reported abuse took place more than 45 years ago, she said.