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MONITOR EDITORIAL

Coarse talk sullies House's reputation

Is it possible that the No. 2 Republican in the New Hampshire House will keep his leadership position - let alone his seat in the Legislature - after calling the state's Roman Catholic bishop a "pedophile pimp"?

After the Monitor reported D.J. Bettencourt's jaw-dropping Facebook comments Friday morning, we figured the majority leader would be gone by evening - forced from his perch by his own humiliation or pressure from his party.

Wrong.

In the past few weeks, we have heard the speaker of the House refer to budget protesters as "thugs" - and seen him block the public's access to the House gallery during the budget debate. We have heard the chairman of the House Finance Committee tell demonstrators to "shut up" - and we've heard him question the integrity of mental health professionals. Martin Harty, a newly elected legislator, made a hasty exit from Concord after appearing to endorse eugenics as a budget solution for people with disabilities - comments he later described as a joke.

In this House, where crass language is now par for the course, Bettencourt's description of Bishop John McCormack was apparently just the latest outrage. What, we can only wonder, will come next?

Language is important. Civility matters. The reputation of the House of Representatives and the state can be quickly sullied by coarse talk from those in positions of power. Bettencourt, though not yet 30 years old, speaks not just for himself but for the nearly 300 House Republicans who call him their leader.

More grim, however, is the morality choice Bettencourt's commentary implies.

In objecting to McCormack's lecturing lawmakers about the state budget, Bettencourt implied that the bishop's role in protecting abusive priests made him unfit to moralize on the State House plaza. Indeed, it is hard to argue this point. McCormack has been widely criticized for mishandling clergy abuse cases when he worked for the Archdiocese of Boston - and for the Manchester diocese's initial reaction to the investigation into allegations of abuse by New Hampshire priests over nearly 60 years. In 2003, 72 percent of the state's Catholics thought he should step down.

But moralizing from a politician who led his troops to slash services for the state's neediest residents in order to protect the rest of us from paying our fair share? Turns out, that's mighty difficult to swallow as well.

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