GILMANTON, N.H. – A Roman Catholic summer camp for children has become a target of sex abuse allegations from former campers, including a man who said he was sexually assaulted in the chapel by a former camp director in 1972.
According to court records and interviews with alleged victims and their lawyers, at least eight clergymen, some allegedly with multiple victims, face allegations involving Camp Fatima, an idyllic collection of lakeside cabins run by the Diocese of Manchester.
County prosecutor Lauren Noether last week would not disclose the number and nature of allegations under investigation at the camp, which is host to several hundred boys ages 6-15 each summer.
Authorities do say all the alleged assaults happened at least a decade ago.
"There was some bad stuff going on there. There had to be some complete breakdown in administrative supervision of the place," said Peter Hutchins, who represents four men who allege they were molested at Fatima.
One of the alleged victims was 9 years old and had just been chosen as an altar boy when the late director of the camp, the Rev. Karl Dowd, allegedly sexually assaulted him in the camp chapel, Hutchins said.
The man, who lives in Manchester and is now 39, declined to be interviewed, saying it would be too painful.
Hutchins said the alleged assault occurred as Dowd was preparing the boy for his new duties.
"Father Dowd told him he had to remove his clothes to put the altar boy cassock on. As he was doing that Father Dowd fondled him," Hutchins said. The man says the assault stopped when someone walked in.
Dowd, the camp's director from 1968 to 1990, died three months ago.
Patrick McGee, spokesman for the diocese, said the church has not received any complaints about Dowd or other priests at the camp. He said the diocese has not paid any settlements stemming from alleged sexual abuse there.
Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish, who has settled dozens of sexual abuse cases against the Archdiocese of Boston, said alleged victims told him a "substantial number" of priests used the camp as a place for sex with boys.
They said priests from Massachusetts would visit the camp, sometimes bringing boys from their communities, MacLeish said. He said alleged victims told him the priests often took boys to a home near the camp, got them drunk and molested them.
"It was constant," said another of Hutchins' clients, a man who attended the camp for several years during the early 1970s. "It was nothing to see somebody take a little kid, go into a cabin, close all the shutters."
The Hudson man, who asked not to be identified, said such activity was a forbidden subject.
"You'd see kids for about a week and they'd be absolutely fine. Then you'd see them the next day and they'd be freaked out and their parents would come and get them and they'd leave. Nobody would ever say anything," he said.
Both he and Dowd's accuser say that on numerous occasions, campers were made to line up naked before rows of cars before going swimming.
"If it was hot, they would do skinny dipping," the Hudson man said. "They'd make all the campers line up naked. They'd run you down to the beach and there would be all these cars down at the beach shining their lights onto the water."
The Rev. Ronald Paquin, a retired Massachusetts priest charged with molesting a boy from 1989 to 1992 in Massachusetts, also is being investigated for accusations that he molested a boy at Camp Fatima. Paquin's attorney, Kevin Reddington, did not return a call for comment. Paquin previously has admitted he molested boys in Massachusetts.
For Massachusetts authorities, the allegations concerning Fatima present a unique opportunity to file criminal charges. The deadline for filing charges has long passed for many alleged assaults by priests in Massachusetts. New Hampshire's statute of limitations, however, stops tolling if the alleged perpetrator leaves the state.
In New Hampshire, nearly 50 current or former priests already face sexual assault allegations. Nationwide, at least 225 priests have either been dismissed from their duties or resigned since the sex abuse scandal erupted early this year.