Philip F. Lawler
Phil is the editor of, which brings you daily news headlines from a Catholic perspective. He is the author of The Faithful Departed, a history of the Church in Boston and the scandal of the abuse of children by priests.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bishop McCormack's legacy

Bishop John McCormack has been leading the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, for 10 years now, and that milestone earns him a remarkable favorable piece in the Union Leader.

According to a sociologist from the University of New Hampshire, the bishop-- severely tarred by the sex-abuse scandal-- has "won back, I guess you could say, his credibility to lead the diocese."

How? By striking a plea-bargain deal with prosecutors, ignoring demands for his resignation, riding out the storm of criticism, and... surviving? Is that what passes for leadership?

The same sociologist argues that the bishop's deep involvement with the shuffling of predator-priests will "be like a passing incident or episode that has to be noted, but it won't end up defining his legacy."

What does define his legacy, then? Read on; the information is in the article.

When Bishop McCormack was installed, there were 130 parishes and 37 missions in the diocese. Now there are 102 parishes and 16 missions. There were 158 active priests. Now the number is under 100, headed for 75.

That's one legacy: a diocese in decline. As in Boston (where McCormack had previously handled priest-personnel problems-- with memorable results), so in New Hampshire the diocese is contracting. The Catholic faith is in retreat. The scandal and the contraction go hand in hand.

But in New Hampshire there is more: As I explained in The Faithful Departed, Bishop McCormack reached an agreement with the state's attorney general, surrendering his own autonomy. The bishop accepted state supervision of ecclesiastical affairs as an alternative to prosecution because-- as he conceded in a legal document-- the state had evidence "likely to sustain a conviction" on criminal charges.

Now there is a legacy.


K Pastrone said...

"The bishop accepted state supervision of ecclesiastical affairs as an alternative to prosecution" contrast to St. Thomas Becket.

McCormack's sellout is truly appalling.

In Christ the King,
Krista Pastrone

Leila said...

I suppose someone could counter that it would be extraordinary to expect martyrdom from a bishop, and I would have to agree. I'm not sure how I would behave if given the opportunity to sell out the Church.

But I wonder about this breezy "restoration" of goodwill and imputation of positive "legacy" -- is it extraordinary to expect shame, at the minimum, from this disastrous bishop, and not a sort of happy nod to his "credibility"?

In Phil's book McCormack's doings are laid out for all to see. If he were in jail, then perhaps we could forgive him for not being a great saint in defending the Church.

But seeing him stroked in the press is more than I can contemplate without anger. Only reading the book will keep us from this terrible mistake of forgetfulness.

Anonymous said...

A followup in the Union Leader, although by the "survivor support chairman of New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful and co-founder of New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership":

Carolyn B. Disco: A more balanced assessment of bishop's leadership
September 25, 2008's+leadership&articleId=3a57ac11-1b04-4d7b-86a5-5f680c7a6ba9

The 10th anniversary of Bishop John McCormack's installation in the Diocese of Manchester calls for a balanced evaluation of his tenure. The question might be posed, "Has McCormack healed the Body of Christ so damaged in these years?"

The article, "Bishop McCormack suffered and learned," by Kathryn Marchocki (Sept. 21) features laudatory opinions exclusively in the prominent front-and back-page spread. Those opinions cite McCormack as an effective administrator who rode out the storm due to his personal leadership style; claim he maintains his stature and credibility in the diocese; and that the clergy love him dearly because of his pastoral sensitivity; and finally, propose that his perseverance is a model for all Catholics.

The majority of comments on the Union Leader Web site below the article are in direct opposition to the tenor of those quotes. They cite McCormack's refusal to acknowledge his culpability in enabling the sexual abuse of minors, multiple refusals by parishioners to donate to the church as long as he is bishop, or their abandoning Catholicism altogether, and McCormack's manipulation of the truth and a loss of credibility ...