MANCHESTER — One of the top former priests in the Catholic Church in New Hampshire has been suspended from his priestly duties after allegations arose of an “inappropriate adult relationship” and potentially illegal financial transactions on his part, officials said.
The Diocese of Manchester on Monday announced the suspension of the Rev. Msgr. Edward J. Arsenault in light of investigations by the Diocese and the New Hampshire Attorney General. The FBI has also been asked to assist, according to a state official involved in the investigation.
The diocese said it started looking into Arsenault after receiving word of the relationship earlier this year.
“The review discovered evidence suggesting improper financial transactions by Msgr. Arsenault involving diocesan funds,” the statement reads. “Because the diocese was concerned that illegal acts may have been committed, it reported the matter to the New Hampshire Office of the Attorney General.”
During most of the 2000s, Arsenault held top administrative positions for the Diocese. As part of the job, he often faced reporters during the priest-sex abuse crisis of that decade.
In 2009, he left New Hampshire to head St. Luke Institute, a Maryland-based institution that delivers psychological and spiritual care to priests. The institute has also delivered counseling to priests accused of sexual abuse of minors.
St. Luke announced Monday that Arsenault had resigned Friday, given the New Hampshire investigations.
The investigation also appears to involve Catholic Medical Center, where Arsenault served on the board of directors until 2009.
The Manchester hospital on Monday released a statement acknowledging a consulting contract it signed with Arsenault after he left the hospital board.
The contract ended in 2010, when Arsenault was at St. Luke.
“We do not know whether this contract will have any bearing on the current investigation, but in the interest of openness and transparency, we have asked for this review. We will cooperate fully with the Attorney General’s investigation,” reads a statement issued by CMC President & Chief-Executive Dr. Joseph Pepe and Joseph Graham, the chairman of the CMC board.
A top state prosecutor said the investigation started when representatives from CMC and the diocese contacted the Attorney General’s Office about two weeks ago.
Jane Young, a senior assistant attorney general who oversees the Criminal Justice Bureau, said the investigation is in its infancy. At the present, it revolves around the financial matters, but there is no telling where it may lead, she said
“These type of investigations, financial investigations, in general take longer than other investigations,” Young said.
Nothing has emerged to indicate any improprieties with children.
“An inappropriate adult relationship, that’s not something at the moment that is in our scope,” she said.
She said the state could share information that it uncovers with the diocese, depending on how it received the information.
Young said the FBI is assisting in the investigation at her request. She said the FBI lends expertise to such investigations, and if an investigation moves into another state, the FBI can smoothly handle the cross-state issues.
She would not answer questions about whether Arsenault is cooperating, or if he is residing in New Hampshire.
Diocesan spokesman Kevin Donovan said Arsenault had his public ministry suspended May 1, and is the only priest to be suspended as a result of the investigation. He said no other diocesan personnel have been affected.
In a statement, Bishop Peter Libasci said: “I am committed to reviewing our internal diocesan operations to ensure that any issues are identified and corrected, as necessary. We will do this in the light of day.”
In its statement, the diocese said it cannot discuss the matter further, but will release more information when appropriate to do so.
CMC said it asked the attorney general to review its contract with Arsenault in light of the discovery of the transactions involving diocesan funds. The CMC contract would have been signed when Alyson Pitman Giles was the president and chief-executive of the hospital.
Reached Monday, Giles said she knows nothing about an investigation and has not spoken to anyone about it. Giles said it would be inappropriate for her to speak about any hospital matters and referred questions to hospital president Pepe.
According to the Diocese, Arsenault was ordained in 1991. He was named secretary for administration in 1999. He was named chancellor in 2002, and then moderator of the curia, which handles administrative duties, in 2004.
He was granted permission to resign from this position in February 2009.
Donovan said priests receive a salary based on their years with the Diocese, not their position. He did not provide Arsenault’s salary.