CONCORD, N.H. – Eight years after telling parishioners that his role in Boston’s church sex abuse scandal clouded his future in New Hampshire, Bishop John B. McCormack is retiring from the Diocese of Manchester.

As required by Catholic Church rules, the 75-year-old bishop sent a letter of resignation to the Vatican this week but will remain on the job until his resignation is formally recognized. Devoted parishioners are celebrating his leadership and compassion while critics are glad to see him go.

McCormack’s tenure as the leader of New Hampshire’s 310,000 Catholics started in 1998 and turned tumultuous in early 2002 when the sex abuse scandal erupted in Boston. Victims and grass roots Catholic groups called on him to resign, citing his former position as a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, where he was in charge of investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by priests.

“McCormack was absolutely in the thick of everything that blew up in 2002,” said Terence McKiernan of “In many, many of the crucial sexual abuse cases in Boston, McCormack’s hands were really on the controls.”

McCormack averted criminal charges against the New Hampshire diocese by agreeing it had harmed children by moving abusive priests from parish to parish.

“These days, my past haunts my present and clouds my future with you in New Hampshire,” he told parishioners in December 2002, just after Law resigned and the New Hampshire settlement was reached. He said the best way he could help alleged victims was to serve and lead the church well.

“He did the best he could given the tools he had to work with,” said Peter Charron, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester.

Under the 2002 agreement, prosecutors agreed to not seek criminal indictments against the diocese for failing to protect children from molesting priests. In return, the diocese agreed to enact strict child protection policies, admits its actions had harmed children and open itself to audits by the attorney general’s office.


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