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Catholic Culture Overview

Jerry Comes Home

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 09, 2003

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New Hampshire priest Gerard Desmarais made a dramatic exit from his parish last week, telling his parishioners he was quitting because of the lack of leadership provided by Manchester Bishop John McCormack. At his curtain call, Desmarais received the now-obligatory standing ovation and tears of sympathy.

Well, it appears McCormack's "leadership" failure is not the whole story. Two of Desmarais's fellow priests -- who declined to be named -- told reporter Kathryn Marchocki that the real reason for his departure is that he wants to move in with his ... gentleman companion. Desmarais denies the charge:

"That is absolutely ridiculous. That is ridiculous," he said. "I'm not gay, first of all," he added.

So we come to the question of motive. Somebody's lying. Who stands to gain most by his falsehood? Desmarais's clergyman-critics have not made their names public, but prima facie they don't appear to be the bishop's stooges:

One of the priests leveling charges against Desmarais said his actions not only are "hypocritical," but betrayed the trust of his parishioners. "I'm angry because he is perpetuating an injustice toward the bishop and is misleading and lying to the community entrusted" to him, he added. "There have been plenty of good reasons to go after the bishop for the past two years," the priest said, referring to McCormack's handling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. But, he added, "For once, the bishop is doing something he should be doing by calling this guy to task and by being strict and applying the rules."

Another priest confirmed Desmarais wanted to have his partner join him at the rectory when he returned from his paid, six-month leave of absence in September. "I do know Jerry wanted to come back and bring someone with him and the bishop said no to that," the second priest said. "He wants to live a life that is not consistent with priestly celibacy."

Marchocki quotes another anonymous informant who claims to have seen Desmarais in fumido delicto:

A source in the New Hampshire homosexual community who is not a priest confirmed Desmarais has led an actively gay lifestyle and saw him in Ogunquit, Maine, at various times from April through early July "caressing and fondling" a male companion in public. Desmarais owns a condominium at the Seasons in Ogunquit, Maine, according to the town assessor's office.

It seems that Desmarais recently returned from one those mysterious six-month leaves pastors are so often granted in these days of the acute priest shortage. He complained to his parishioners that the leave was unpaid, but admitted under questioning by Marchocki that he'd fibbed about that bit.

The lay faithful, meanful, are stuck between a bad bishop and a worse priest. Their predicament is hardly unusual. The exasperating feature of this story is how high the threshold of clerical misbehavior is -- i.e., how much a priest can get away with before the boom is lowered from above. Is there any reason to believe, had Desmarais remained content with his after-hours canoodling in Maine, he would not be in the pulpit this weekend "gathering God's people in prayer"?

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