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Former Diocese leader Edward Arsenault will plead guilty to stealing thousands

Last modified: 2/5/2014 12:03:10 AM
Monsignor Edward Arsenault, the former public face of the Diocese of Manchester, will plead guilty to charges he stole thousands of dollars from the church, a hospital and a colleague as the church struggled to rebound from a pervasive clergy abuse scandal.

As part of a bargain with the state, Arsenault has agreed to plead guilty this spring to three counts of theft in exchange for a minimum four-year state prison sentence, according to a court document made public yesterday.

The indictments in the case, filed in Rockingham County and Hillsborough County North superior courts, do not indicate how much Arsenault stole – or the manner in which he did so – but do establish that the amount was at least $1,500 for each count, the minimum required for a felony-level offense.

The thefts occurred between Jan. 1, 2005, and March 15, 2013, according to the indictments.

Arsenault is set to plead guilty to all three counts at an April 23 hearing in Manchester. In addition to the prison sentence, he will be ordered to pay full restitution to the victims: the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester, Catholic Medical Center in Manchester and the Estate of Reverend Monsignor John Molan, who died in 2010.

The attorney general’s office described the sentence as, in part, “recognition of the extensive cooperation of the defendant.”

Allegations against Arsenault, 51, were first made public in May when the diocese announced he was being investigated for “improper financial transactions” involving church funds. Church officials said then that they had discovered the alleged financial improprieties while inquiring into another claim that Arsenault had engaged in a “potentially inappropriate” adult relationship.

The attorney general’s office made no mention of that relationship yesterday. It said in a statement that its criminal investigation into Arsenault had ended, but also that “the state’s investigation will continue.”

The state launched the criminal investigation in May after being contacted by the diocese. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said then that the investigation would look not only at diocesan expenses but also at the finances of Catholic Medical Center, because Arsenault was on the hospital’s board of directors.

Arsenault also had a consulting contract with the hospital that ended in 2010. Hospital officials said in a statement yesterday that they had asked the attorney general’s office to review it specifically, and that they had cooperated with investigators.

“We look forward to a full public disclosure at the conclusion of the attorney general’s investigation,” the statement said.

The attorney general’s statement did not elaborate on Molan’s ties with Arsenault. Molan, who died at age 83, served in a variety of pastoral and administrative positions during a 45-year career with the church. He was called out of retirement in 2007 to lead his home parish, St. Patrick Church in Manchester, as it moved to close its doors.

Arsenault did not respond to requests for comments yesterday, but in a letter to the diocese and former colleagues he apologized repeatedly for his actions, which he detailed only so far as, “I broke the law and violated the trust of others.”

“I am prepared to accept the consequences for having done so, to make restitution and to face the penalty for having committed these crimes,” he wrote, adding later, “May mercy and justice meet, and may God’s Spirit bind us together.”

Arsenault was ordained in 1991 and worked in parishes in Nashua and Manchester briefly before then-Bishop Leo O’Neil sent him to school to earn a master’s degree in business. He joined the diocese in 1995, putting his finance degree to use in its administrative offices.

Arsenault went on to serve in the diocese’s two second-highest roles: assistant to the bishop and the bishop’s delegate for handling sexual misconduct complaints. He remained a senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in New Hampshire until 2009, when he left to become the president and chief executive officer of St. Luke Institute, a Maryland mental health treatment center for priests.

Arsenault was earning nearly $170,000 a year at the post until he abruptly resigned in May, when the state announced its investigation. At that time, the diocese also suspended Arsenault’s public ministry authority.

For much of Arsenault’s tenure in New Hampshire, he oversaw the diocese’s handling of and response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

It was Arsenault who oversaw the settlement of dozens of lawsuits brought by people who claimed to have been abused by diocesan priests and employees between the 1950s and 1980s. In late 2002, the diocese settled nearly 80 lawsuits for about $6 million.

And in December of that year, after 10 months of investigation by state prosecutors, high-ranking church officials avoided criminal prosecution when the diocese admitted to endangering children by sheltering abusive priests over a 40-year period.

As part of the settlement with the state, the diocese agreed to make public more than 9,000 pages of internal documents detailing decades of alleged abuse by more than 40 priests and the cover-ups by men in charge at the diocese. The diocese also agreed to ongoing annual audits of its personnel records.

The 2007 audit criticized Arsenault specifically for a “lack of detailed information and candor.” Arsenault said in an interview then that the auditors had mischaracterized his attitude. The 2008 audit credited the diocese for showing a greater willingness to work with the authorities.

In a statement yesterday, the diocese thanked the attorney general’s office and other law enforcement agencies “for their exceptional diligence and professionalism. We pray for all involved and for the continued vitality of the Catholic Church in New Hampshire.”

Donna Sytek, a former state House speaker who led an evaluation of the church’s sexual harassment policy at the request of then-Bishop John McCormack, called Arsenault’s behavior “an embarrassment.”

“What a shock,” she said. “He was the one telling priests, ‘Hey, these are the rules, and here are the consequences.’ I mean, wow.”

Chuck Douglas, a Concord attorney who negotiated a nearly $1 million settlement in 2002 between the diocese and 16 male abuse survivors, recalled working with Arsenault and described him as “always cooperative.”

“I was surprised when they opened an investigation, and just as surprised with what you told me today,” he told a reporter regarding the indictments.

But Arsenault was also viewed in some circles as a brash recalcitrant. Carolyn Disco, a survivor support coordinator at Voice of the Faithful, a lay group created in the aftermath of the scandal that continues to advocate for church reform, noted several negative interactions with Arsenault over the years.

“I’m sure there are many good things he has done in his ministry, but I found him one who was highly feared and someone I couldn’t trust,” she said.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins. Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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