Bishops Replace Head of Sexual Abuse Panel and Name New Members

April 20, 2002


New York Times

Bishop John B. McCormack of the Diocese of New Hampshire,
who has been criticized for his handling of sexual
misconduct cases when he served in the Boston Archdiocese,
has been replaced as the chairman of the Roman Catholic
church's highest committee devoted to issues of clerical
sexual abuse in the United States, church authorities said

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said that
Bishop McCormack would step aside as chairman of the
conference's Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, though he
would remain a committee member.

The president of the bishops' conference, Bishop Wilton B.
Gregory, said in a statement that he was expanding what had
been a five-member committee to include two new members,
and he named one of them, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St.
Paul-Minneapolis, as the new chairman. The second new
committee member is Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, the
statement said.

The shake-up at the ad hoc committee is unusual and yet
another reflection of the crisis the church is facing over
sexual abuse among priests. The committee was established
in 1993 to guide the country's 194 dioceses in responding
to accusations of abuse.

Shortly after its creation, the committee issued several
recommendations. Among them, it urged bishops to respond
promptly to credible accusations of abuse, to relieve
priestly offenders from their ministries, to comply with
laws regarding reporting sexual crimes and to reach out to
victims with compassion.

The country's bishops enjoy tremendous autonomy within
their dioceses, however, and though some embraced the
committee's recommendations, many others largely ignored

In March, Bishop Gregory and other leaders of the bishops'
conference asked the committee to review the history of the
church's policies on sexual abuse and to develop
comprehensive recommendations for how the church should
address the issue that has shaken the Roman Catholic church
in the United States like no other crisis.

But in recent weeks, the credibility of the committee
itself had been substantially undermined, as three of the
five bishops who were its members came under fire for their
handling of sexual abuse accusations under their

Bishop McCormack, who served as a top aide to Cardinal
Bernard Law in Boston before his appointment to Manchester,
oversaw the transfer of several priests from parish to
parish even after evidence of sexual misconduct grew with
multiple accusations made against them.

One of those he helped to transfer around the country was
the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who has been accused of the
sexual abuse of more than 20 young boys and who publicly
defended pedophilia at a 1979 meeting of the North American
Man-Boy Love Association.

Patrick McGee, a spokesman for Bishop McCormack, said
yesterday that the bishop had offered his resignation as
chairman of the committee to better comply with the
responsibilities of his home diocese in Manchester.

"He feels he needs to devote his time to his duties in
Manchester," Mr. McGee said. "He felt it best both for the
committee and for the people of Manchester that he remain
on the committee but not chair it."

Asked if Bishop McCormack's decision had anything to do
with the disclosures about his role in arranging Father
Shanley's numerous transfers, Mr. McGee said it did not.
"It has everything to do with his ministry here in
Manchester, with his desire to give full attention to the
diocese here."

Two other bishops on the ad hoc committee have come under
recent criticism. Bishop John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City,
Mo., kept silent in 1999, when the Rev. Anthony O'Connell
was promoted to bishop of Palm Beach, Fla., even though the
Jefferson City Diocese had paid a secret $1.2 million
settlement in 1996 to a seminarian whom Bishop O'Connell
had abused during the 1970's.

In March, Bishop O'Connell resigned from the Palm Beach
Diocese when the seminarian stepped forward to describe his
abuse publicly.

Another committee member, Bishop James A. Quinn, an
auxiliary bishop in the Cleveland Diocese, has also been
criticized recently. In a 1990 speech, he appeared to
advise church lawyers how to keep documents that could
incriminate priests in sexual conduct out of the hands of
the church's adversaries.

The restructuring of the committee announced yesterday did
not change the membership status of either Bishop Gaydos or
Bishop Quinn.

Archbishop Flynn, who is 68, was thrown into one of the
church's earliest sexual-abuse crises in 1986, when he was
appointed coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette, La.

A priest there had been arrested three years earlier and
had struck a plea bargain in which he admitted having
sexually abused dozens of Louisiana youths.