CONCORD – Rep. D.J. Bettencourt, the House majority leader, Friday defended his Facebook page posting that calls Catholic Bishop John McCormack, "a pedophile pimp."
Bettencourt, R-Salem, posted the statement late Thursday after McCormack spoke against budget cuts at a State House rally. McCormack is the leader of New Hampshire's 290,000 Catholics. He told a crowd estimated at between 4,000 and 5,000 people that the budget plan Republicans passed neglects society's obligation to care for the poor and vulnerable.
On his Facebook page, Bettencourt attacked McCormack not for what he told the crowd, but for his role in the Archdiocese of Boston's child sex abuse scandals of past years.
"Would the bishop like to discuss his history of protecting the 'vulnerable?' This man is a pedophile pimp who should have been led way from the State House in handcuffs with a raincoat over his head in disgrace. He has absolutely no moral authority to lecture anyone."
|This screen grab from House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt's |
Facebook page shows his comments on Bishop John McCormack.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester said Bettencourt's remarks are false and defamatory, meant to distract people from the budget issues.
Speaker of the House William O'Brien said he shares Bettencourt's feelings, but said he would have phrased them more gracefully.
State Republican Chairman Jack Kimball said he had not spoken with Bettencourt, "but I am disappointed with his words, and I don't share his sentiments."
McCormack said at the State House rally, "I am deeply concerned about the budget that the House is in the process of passing because it does not meet our obligation as a state to care for our fellow citizens in need."
He said the budget properly denies the use of state funding for abortions, but said it leaves the vulnerable exposed and launches an unwarranted attack on the rights of workers.
McCormack once was a key administrator for Cardinal Bernard F. Law in Boston. The Archdiocese of Boston was among the first to be drawn into scandals involving the sexual abuse of Catholic boys by priests. McCormack was Law's top aide and was assigned to investigate sexual abuse complaints and reassigning priests. He was named Bishop of Manchester in 1998.
Bettencourt said in a statement explaining his Facebook comments, "As a practicing Catholic it is truly disappointing that we would have a leader with a record of enabling such egregious and unacceptable behavior. From my perspective it will be a great day for New Hampshire Catholics when Bishop McCormack retires and we can bring new leadership to the church that is untainted by the abuses of our current bishop. He stepped on to secular soil yesterday and he should not be above being called out on the merits of his words and actions."
Kevin Donovan, spokesman for the diocese, said Bettencourt's posting, "is clearly false, defamatory and detracts from the real issue. Bishop McCormack's message to the people of New Hampshire was the simple message of the gospels. The church and our broader society have a fundamental obligation to care for the poor.
"The bishop's message is a challenge to ourselves and our elected officials to never waiver in our obligation to care for the most vulnerable of society," he said.
Manchester attorney Peter Hutchins, who has represented clients in many cases of clergy abuse, said he understands the point Bettencourt was making, but the time and place could have been better chosen.
"Here, what Bishop McCormack was talking about was completely different" and not related to abuse, Hutchins said. However, "perhaps Bishop McCormack is not the best spokesperson for the diocese, given his history."
Manchester Ward 6 alderman Garth Corriveau called on Bettencourt to resign.
"I could never imagine myself or another elected official berating clergy like that. And not only did he refuse to apologize, it appears he doubled down on his comments," said Corriveau, a Catholic and former New Hampshire Young Democrats chairman.
He said it was wrong of Bettencourt to "savage the leader of our church and good works that our church does, particularly on behalf of the poor. It goes way beyond common decency. I was shocked."
O'Brien said Bettencourt may have chosen harsh words, but said, "I certainly agree with the concerns. I don't agree with the language or the implications of the language," said O'Brien, who is Catholic. He noted Bettencourt was the top vote-getter in his House district, and he has no thoughts of asking him to resign.
Bettencourt admitted in his statement, "Yes, my language was colorful but I stand by the sentiment in describing a man who has in my opinion brought shame and dishonor on my church here in New Hampshire." He was not available for an interview.
O'Brien described Bettencourt as "an invaluable asset to the State of New Hampshire." He said he has been under strain as the House wrapped up the first half year of business this week. He noted that Bettencourt's father underwent a cardiac care procedure Thursday.
"All of that together may have led him to choose language stronger than he would choose upon reflection," he said.
"As I have said, representatives really do have to be held to a higher standard," O'Brien said.
O'Brien said that McCormack, "was involved in decisions that some of us look at with great deal of sadness in terms of protecting children."
In late 2002, the Diocese of Manchester reached a settlement of a criminal investigation into sex abuse cases that dated back 40 years. That settlement included a series of audits that tracked the church's handling of complaints, and its programs meant to prevent further abuse.
On Friday, Barbara Dorris president of SNAP (Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests) criticized Bettencourt and McCormack.
"Rather than call each other names, we hope all parties here will instead take action -- real action -- that will protect kids.
"A politician gets mad and a bishop gets defensive and nothing changes. If these gentlemen really care about kids, we'll know when they take tangible new steps toward safeguarding the vulnerable.