Diocese starts to release information about its canon-law expert

Dec. 12—CONCORD — A judge has told lawyers for the New Hampshire Catholic Church and a right-wing Catholic news outlet to come to an agreement about how much information the church will disclose about one of its high-ranking priests.

Issued last week, the judge's order sets some limits on how much information the Diocese of Manchester will have to provide about its canon law expert, the Very Rev. Georges F. de Laire.

Earlier this year, de Laire sued Michigan-based St. Michael's Media, editor Gary Michael Voris and a reporter claiming defamation in several articles about the church's dispute with a religious sect in Richmond. As the diocese's judicial vicar and vicar for canonical affairs, de Laire figured prominently in the church's handling of the sect, the St. Benedict Center.

St. Michael's Media has subpoenaed the Diocese of Manchester seeking information about de Laire's dealings with St. Benedict Center, his oversight of annulment cases and any complaints received about de Laire.

In his order, Judge Joseph A. DiClerico Jr. noted that the diocese is not a party to the lawsuit, and federal rules caution that any subpoenas of third parties cannot be burdensome.

In general, he told the media outlet to narrow the scope of its requests. At one point, the judge even rebuked the company for raising clergy sex abuse as a reason to not allow a blanket exemption to subpoenas.

"Such gratuitous remarks do not advance the defendants' cause," DiClerico wrote.

But DiClerico also questioned how the diocese can turn over some documents but claim a First Amendment exemption to releasing others.

"To the extent the Diocese has disclosed some documents but withheld others, any privilege may have been waived," the judge wrote.

Officially, his order denies a request by St. Michael's Media to force the diocese to produce the documents. But he said the organizations' lawyers should try to work out their differences without involving the court, and if they don't, St. Michael's Media can resurrect the issue.

"Counsel do not appear to have communicated as effectively as might be necessary to accomplish that purpose," DiClerico wrote.

De Laire is pastor of St. Pius X Church in Manchester and heir to a family fortune made in the French perfume business. He divides his time between the parish and a home on Baboosic Lake in Amherst, which figured prominently in the coverage de Laire has sued over.