The Diocese of Manchester announced yesterday that the Vatican has defrocked the Rev. John Nolin, a former Lakeport and Penacook priest removed from ministry in 1994 after allegations that he abused a Keene girl. Nolin is the third New Hampshire priest to be defrocked.
Nolin, 74, resigned his ministry in 1994 after he was accused of sexual assault, but he has been retired and collecting a retirement check from the diocese since 2000. As recently as 2005, Nolin was living in New Mexico with a woman he was romantically involved with during his time in Keene.
Bishop John McCormack warned Nolin in writing in 2002 to leave the woman and relocate to Manchester alone. If he did not, McCormack warned, the diocese would seek to have Nolin defrocked. By then, the diocese had a history of confronting Nolin about his sexual affairs with adult women, according to church records.
In 1982, Msgr. Francis Christian, now an auxiliary bishop with the diocese, told Nolin he was lucky one of the women he was intimate with "had not seen fit to publicize this matter, since in that case you certainly would face suspension and even possible laicization," according to church records.
The Vatican "laicized" or defrocked Nolin two months ago, on Nov. 10, but the diocese released the news just yesterday. The move means Nolin will no longer receive financial support from the church, including his retirement, or be allowed to act as a priest.
The church's press release did not explain its delay in announcing the Vatican's decision or say why Nolin was defrocked when several other accused and imprisoned priests from New Hampshire have not been. Four priests are serving long prison sentences for sexually assaulting children: the Rev. Roger Fortier, the Rev. Gordon MacRae, the Rev. Joseph McGuire and the Rev. Francis Talbot.
Melanie English of the diocese's communication's office said church officials were not taking phone calls about the Nolin press release or disclosing additional information. Nolin could not be reached.
Nolin was ordained in 1960 and spent his early years in a variety of parishes: St. Mary's in Newmarket, St. Kieran's in Berlin, St. Joseph's in Salem and Our Lady of the Mountains in North Conway. He was reassigned at least once because the diocese learned of his affairs with women, according to church records. His local assignments included our Lady of the Lakes in Lakeport in 1968 and Immaculate Conception in Penacook in 1969.
The Diocese of Manchester first learned of abuse allegations against Nolin in 1994, when a 32-year-old woman reported that Nolin had assaulted her several years earlier, when she was 12 or 13. At the time, Nolin was having an affair with the girl's mother, according to church files. He spent nights with the family and visited the girl in her room, the records said. She pretended to be asleep while he touched her sexually.
Christian confronted Nolin in 1994 about the child sexual abuse allegation. Nolin admitted to having the affair with the girl's mother and said he had been involved with several other women, according to church records. But he denied assaulting the girl. He admitted only to a "vague memory" of going into her room while she was asleep.
In April, 1994, Christian and Nolin discussed how to respond to the allegation, according to church records, and reached the following agreement: Nolin would resign his current parish assignment at St. Jospeh's in Woodsville, sell his home in Keene near the accuser's family and relocate. The diocese would grant him early retirement and he would agree not to function as a priest.
Nolin followed through with the agreement and by 1995 had moved to New Mexico. He remained in contact with the diocese, and in 2002 Bishop John McCormack wrote to Nolin ordering him to return to Manchester to reside in a retirement home for priests. McCormack said the move was necessary to cease the scandal Nolin was causing by living with a woman in New Mexico.
In his 2002 letter, McCormack warned Nolin that he would seek to have him defrocked if he did not relocate to Manchester alone. McCormack was upset that Nolin's "cohabitation" with a woman had become publicly known. The only other option, McCormack wrote, was for Nolin to have himself removed from the clerical state.
It was not clear yesterday whether McCormack or Nolin requested Nolin's laicization.
The same year McCormack demanded that Nolin move back to New Hampshire alone, the diocese released the names of priests who'd been accused and removed for child sexual abuse allegations. It did so under pressure from the state attorney general's office, which had been investigating the diocese for child endangerment.
The woman who accused Nolin in 1994 noticed immediately that his name was missing. The diocese added Nolin's name a month later, after the family demanded it. Church officials said at the time that Nolin had been left off the list by accident.
The family accused the church of omitting Nolin's name and his story on purpose.