Boston - The attorney general’s office in New Hampshire has released files on dozens of sexual abuse accusations against clergy members, including 27 clerics whose names had not been made public. Most of the alleged episodes took place decades ago.
The files provide a rare window on communications between prosecutors and church officials after the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church erupted in 2002. The attorney general, Kelly A. Ayotte, is not pursuing many of the cases in the Diocese of Manchester because the clerics are dead or the statute of limitations has expired.
A senior assistant attorney general, Will Delker, said that his office was investigating accusations against a former employee of the diocese who was not a priest, and that a religious order was investigating a priest who was accused of abuse in New Hampshire. In another case, Mr. Delker said, prosecutors brought charges against a cleric, but they later were dropped. Some accusations have proved unfounded.
Any priests who were in ministry when accusations were made against them were placed on leave by the diocese, Mr. Delker said, while the investigations were conducted.
"From everything we can tell," he said, "it looks like they handled these cases the way they should have."
But leaders of a group that tracks reports of abuse cases, BishopAccountability.org, said the diocese should have publicly identified the clerics as it received the accusations. A director of the group, Anne Barrett Doyle, said more than 60 clergy members from the diocese had been publicly identified earlier by the attorney general’s office, in lawsuits or, in a handful of cases, by the diocese.
The attorney general’s office has been unusually aggressive in monitoring the diocese, which covers the whole state and oversees 96 active priests. In a 2002 settlement, the diocese agreed to a series of annual audits by the attorney general to avoid criminal prosecution for failing to protect children from abuse.
A spokesman for the diocese, Kevin Donovan, said Thursday that it would continue to share with the attorney general’s office the names of priests accused of abuse. Mr. Donovan said the diocese saw such disclosure as sufficient.
"We believe this is a good way to keep children safe," he said.
It is unusual for law enforcement officials to release the names of a large group of clerics, and even more so for dioceses to do so. Some settlements of abuse cases require dioceses to publicly release names, but they are not always put forth promptly.
"Every single time an additional priest is identified," Ms. Barrett Doyle said, "that gives people in the parishes where he served a chance to examine whether harm has been done."
By releasing the files, she said, the attorney general’s office "has given us a unique window into how many additional allegations dioceses all over the country must be hearing."
As part of the 2002 settlement, Mr. Delker said, the attorney general’s office hired an auditing agency to make sure the diocese was abiding by the agreement, reporting abuse accusations, removing priests accused of abuse and preventing new cases. The diocese’s compliance was "abysmal" in the beginning, Mr. Delker said, but eventually improved.
The files, which the attorney general’s office provided to several news organizations and advocacy groups this month after requests for public records, include emotional statements from men and women who said they were abused as recently as 2000 and as long ago as the 1940s.
One woman, who came forward in 2005, said she was molested by a chaplain at a Catholic boarding school starting in 1957. After her sister persuaded her to report the abuse, the woman wrote in a letter to prosecutors, the molester was dismissed from the school but returned once and broke her wrist.
The accuser said the chaplain - whom she identified as Marcel Genereux, now dead - went on to serve as a parish priest in northern New Hampshire.
"I am 62 years old now and have been anguished over the years from this abuse," the woman wrote. "I was told to forget and forgive back then. There is little solace in those words."