CONCORD, N.H. -- The Republican leader of the New Hampshire House on Friday called Roman Catholic Bishop John McCormack a "pedophile pimp" who should have been led from the Statehouse in handcuffs after speaking at a rally criticizing a state budget proposal.
McCormack was among about a dozen speakers at Thursday's rally to protest deep cuts to social services included in the House's $10.2 billion budget. Rep. D.J. Bettencourt of Salem took issue Friday, writing on his Facebook page that McCormack had no business urging lawmakers to protect the vulnerable, given his role in the clergy sex abuse scandal in the last decade.
Before being named bishop of Manchester in 1998, McCormack served as a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, where the Catholic sex abuse scandal began and where he was in charge of investigating sexual misconduct allegations.
In 2002, McCormack averted unprecedented criminal charges against the New Hampshire diocese by agreeing that it had harmed children by moving abusive priests from parish to parish.
"Would the Bishop like to discuss his history of protecting the 'vulnerable?'" Bettencourt wrote. "This man is a pedophile pimp who should have been led away from the State House in handcuffs with a rain coat over his head in disgrace. He has absolutely no moral credibility to lecture anyone."
A spokesman for the diocese said Bettencourt's comments were false, defamatory and detracted from the real issue – the state's obligation to care for the poor.
"Bishop McCormack's message to the people of New Hampshire yesterday was the simple message of the gospels: The church and our broader society have a fundamental obligation to care for the poor," Kevin Donovan said.
Bettencourt stood by his comments later Friday.
"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 said in a statement. "As a practicing Catholic it is truly disappointing that we would have a leader with a record of enabling such egregious and unacceptable behavior."
The Washington-based group Catholics United said it would continue to pressure Bettencourt to retract his statements.
"With his comments, Republican Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt has not only embarrassed himself, he's become an embarrassment to the entire state of New Hampshire," said James Salt, the group's acting director. We call on all elected officials to denounce Republican Bettencourt's comments in the strongest terms possible."
As required under church rules, McCormack sent a resignation letter to the Vatican last summer when he turned 75, but he has remained in office while awaiting formal recognition.
Under the 2002 agreement he reached with the state, prosecutors agreed to not seek criminal indictments against the diocese for failing to protect children from molesting priests. In return, the diocese agreed to enact strict child protection policies, admitted its actions had harmed children and opened itself to audits by the attorney general's office.
Over the years, McCormack has acknowledged that he made mistakes and that he did not adequately help victims. When the final audit was released in 2009, then-Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said the church had made dramatic policy changes to protect children, but she recommended further improvements to which the diocese quickly agreed.
During his speech at the rally, McCormack urged lawmakers to pass a budget that is "just and meets the needs the needs of the most vulnerable in our society."
"We urge the legislature and the governor to place the poor, the unemployed, and our most vulnerable citizens first. Our commitment to human solidarity, the dignity of human labor and justice for the weak and marginalized demands no less," McCormack told the crowd.
Republican House Speaker William O'Brien defended Bettencourt, saying that while he would have used different words, he shares Bettencourt's belief that McCormack did not properly protect children.
"I certainly agree with the concerns. I don't agree with the language or the implication of the language," said O'Brien, of Mont Vernon.
O'Brien, also a Catholic, said he would not discipline Bettencourt.
"He is an invaluable asset to the state of New Hampshire," he said.
The House passed the budget proposal but it has yet to move through the Senate.