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Papers: N.H. Bishop Doubted Abuse Victims

February 10, 2003

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ Letters from a Roman Catholic bishop to a priest convicted of molesting boys question whether the youths told the truth, say sources familiar with the letters and other church documents turned over to New Hampshire officials.

The letters from Bishop John McCormack, the bishop of Manchester, to the imprisoned Rev. Gordon MacRae are among 9,000 pages of investigative files to be publicly released March 3 under a deal between the church and state authorities.

The church handed over the documents to the state attorney general’s office during its 11-month investigation into whether the Diocese of Manchester sheltered abusive priests in past decades. Several sources familiar with the records and the investigation described their contents to The Associated Press. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

The documents include detailed allegations against dozens of priests, the sources said, along with letters from McCormack to MacRae sent within the past two years.

Patrick McGee, spokesman for McCormack, had not seen the documents and would not comment on them. He said any report on them was premature. He said a description of any portion of the documents takes the material ``out of any kind of a context.″

Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker declined comment.

MacRae was convicted in 1994 of raping a 15-year-old boy during ``pastoral counseling″ sessions in 1983 at the rectory of St. Bernard’s Church in Keene. He is serving a 33 1/2-to-67-year prison sentence.

MacRae later pleaded guilty to assaulting three other boys.

Sources said McCormack’s letters are sympathetic to MacRae and express reservations about the truthfulness of his victims. Court records show that MacRae challenged the truthfulness of the victims himself until 1995, when he dropped lawsuits that accused two of them of being motivated by greed. He still maintains his innocence, according to his lawyer, Eileen Nevins.

McCormack, under fire for his handling of abuse cases while serving under Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, averted criminal charges against the Manchester Diocese in December by acknowledging the church had harmed children in the past and agreeing to public release of the documents.

The documents also contain details about one New Hampshire priest who recognized he was harming minors and asked church leaders for help.

According to sources, the priest _ who never faced criminal charges _ approached church leaders in 1976 following incidents with teenage boys during the previous five years. The priest requested psychiatric help, and asked that he not be assigned to work with children again.

The sources said church leaders ordered an evaluation that deemed him fit to work and returned him to an assignment that included working with children. The priest later paid for psychiatric help on his own.

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