NASHUA – Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian will run St. Joseph Church until the Diocese of Manchester can find a permanent pastor.
Christian will serve as the parish’s temporary administrator for an indefinite period, diocesan spokesman Pat McGee said Wednesday. Christian takes over for the Rev. Gerard Desmarais, who resigned abruptly this month.
McGee acknowledged that having the second-ranking leader of the diocese head the parish is a result of the Catholic Church’s clergy shortage. The diocese could not find a priest able to fill the temporary slot, McGee said.
McGee also said Christian looks forward to pastoral work, and wants to help St. Joseph Church at a crucial time. Christian will apparently lead the parish at least until Christmas.
“He loves pastoral work,” McGee said. “He looks forward to serving the people and the parish.”
Christian, in a diocesan press release, said, “Parish life has always been my first love, and I look forward with anticipation to visiting (St. Joseph) hospital, meeting with parish committees, and walking spiritually with the people of St. Joseph through the Advent and Christmas seasons.”
Christian will serve the parish until McCormack can find a permanent pastor, McGee said. Christian met with a group of parish leaders and the church’s staff on Saturday.
Christian will still attend to his diocesan responsibilities, McGee said.
Many Catholics disapprove of Christian’s handling of the clergy abuse crisis. Two lay groups, New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership and the state’s Voice of the _Faithful chapter, want Christian and McCormack to resign, but both bishops have refused and instead say they want to lead the church beyond the scandal.
George Thompson, a parishioner of St. Joseph and member of Voice of the Faithful, said he would have a difficult time separating Christian from his role in the crisis when he leads the church in the celebration of Mass.
“It’s inappropriate to come here,” Thompson said. “His performance in the sexual abuse crisis left a lot to be desired. . . . I have trouble with anyone coming here with a record like that, not just because he’s a bishop.”
In an investigation last year of the diocese’s management of priests charged with abuse, the state attorney general’s office accused Christian of providing misleading information to prosecutors on a priest convicted of rape. The diocese signed a plea deal with the state, avoiding potential criminal prosecution for failing to protect children from abuse.
Another parishioner, however, found Christian’s meeting with St. Joseph parishioners to be “a positive step,” according to the diocesan press release.
“Bishop Christian seemed genuinely concerned about the needs of the parish and how he can address them,” the parishioner, Robert Cormier, said in the diocese’s announcement. “He committed to make himself available to the parishioners. The parishioners greeted him warmly and welcomed him when he did say (Mass).”
Desmarais resigned suddenly this month, citing differences with McCormack and disapproval of the bishop’s leadership style. He did not elaborate.
After leading St. Joseph for nine years and helping parishioners build a new church two years ago, Desmarais left the parish two weeks ago, indicating only that he wanted to eventually serve a diocese in Florida.