Monsignor Indicted on Theft Charges

AG: Ex-Church Leader Stole Thousands From N.H. Diocese

Concord — Monsignor Edward Arsenault, the public face of the Diocese of Manchester during a damaging clergy abuse scandal, was indicted Monday on three counts of theft, alleging he stole thousands of dollars from the church, its hospital in Manchester and a former priest, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that Arsenault has agreed to plead guilty this spring in exchange for a four-year state prison sentence.

The indictments, which have been filed in Rockingham County and Hillsborough County superior courts, do not indicate how much Arsenault stole — or the manner in which he did it — but do say the amount surpassed $1,500 for each count, which is the minimum required for a felony-level offense. The thefts occurred between Jan. 1, 2005, and Feb. 8, 2012, according to the indictments, the Attorney General’s Office said.

The statement said Arsenault has agreed to plead guilty to all three counts at an April 23 hearing in Hillsborough County. In addition to the prison sentence, he will be ordered to pay full restitution to the victims: the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester; the Catholic Medical Center; and the Estate of Reverend Monsignor John Molan, who died last year.

Allegations against Arsenault, who is in his early 50s, 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 investigating another allegation that Arsenault had engaged in a “potentially inappropriate” adult relationship.

Monday’s announcement makes no mention of the relationship in question. The Attorney General’s Office said its investigation is continuing.

The Attorney General’s Office launched its investigation in May after being contacted by the diocese. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said then the investigation would look not only at diocesan expenses but also at the finances of the 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. In a statement today, the hospital said it asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate Arsenault’s work after learning of his possible misuse of diocesan money.

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

Arsenault did not respond to requests for comments at the time the investigation was made public.

Arsenault was ordained in 1991 and worked in parishes in Nashua and Manchester for few years before then-Bishop Leo O’Neil reassigned him: O’Neil sent Arsenault to school to get a master’s degree in business.

He began working at the diocese in 1995 to put his finance degree to use in the diocese’s administrative offices. Arsenault held the two second-highest roles in the diocese: assistant to the bishop and the bishop’s delegate for handling sexual misconduct complaints.

Arsenault remained a senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in New Hampshire until 2009, when he left the diocese 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, after he fell under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office.

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 then the auditors had mischaracterized his attitude in an interview. The 2008 audit credited the diocese for showing a greater willingness to work with the authorities.