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State Names Accused Priests Who Have Died

By Gregory D. Kesich and John Richardson
Portland Press Herald
May 28, 2005

http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/news/state/050528priests.shtml

Twenty now deceased Roman Catholic priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children were identified by the Maine Attorney General's office Friday, in compliance with a court order.

The names and supporting documents detail complaints of abuse ranging from the 1930s to the 1970s, in Maine communities from Fort Kent to South Berwick. Some of the priests are named by a single accuser, others by as many as 13.

The allegations were made against 16 priests of the Diocese of Portland, two Jesuits and two Dominican priests. There is also an allegation against one Dominican brother.

The list of the priests is accompanied by letters and statements of victims and witnesses, whose names have been blacked out in the records. Many tell of the emotional pain of childhood abuse that lasts long into adulthood.

"I had nobody close to me to talk to and I do not know who to tell to get some action taken," one victim wrote. "I have lived with this for 60 years, questioning myself for allowing the action to happen to me."

Another said she did not want to tell anyone about what happened to her when the priest who abused her was still alive.

"I did not want to remember. Now I have lost my chance to confront him," she wrote. "Now I feel guilty and betrayed by the church."

The records were acquired by the Attorney General's Office in 2002 and were ruled public by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court this year, in response to a lawsuit filed by Blethen Maine Newspapers, the parent company of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. Copies of the files are available to the public at the Attorney General's Office in Augusta.

The newspaper staff will now use the information to further its investigation of the abuse allegations, said Jeannine Guttman, the Press Herald's editor and vice president. None of the names will be published without further reporting, she said.

"When we first pursued this issue in court, we described how, if we prevailed, we would take time to fully analyze the documents before publishing any of the names or any of the information contained in the files. Our reporters and editors are in the process of doing that critical work now," Guttman said. "Winning the case in court was a very important victory, but all information needs to also meet our journalistic standards prior to publication in our newspaper. Those journalistic standards include accuracy, fairness, thoroughness and context."

The Diocese of Portland made all of its records available to Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson and the Attorney General's Office in February 2002. The decision followed the priest abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston and the public removal of two Maine priests who had admitted to sexually abusing children.

The diocese's staff produced summaries of all the abuse allegations in its files against priests and others dating back 75 years. Using the summaries, investigators visited the chancery in Portland "to review personnel files . . . and obtain copies of relevant documents," according to a report issued by Attorney General Steven Rowe last year.

Investigators contacted victims and others who reported abuse and passed the information on to district attorneys around the state for possible prosecution. After reviewing allegations against 53 priests, brothers and lay people connected to the diocese, both living and dead, no criminal prosecutions resulted.

The records released Friday are mostly made up of the summaries created by the diocese and follow-up work done by state investigators. The files include virtually no original documents generated by the diocese before 2002.

The state is not holding anything back, said Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who worked on the investigation. Because old complaints could not result in prosecutions, the investigators were less aggressive in collecting evidence from church files. She said investigative resources were used to pursue more recent allegations against living people.

"As a public prosecutor, you have to ask how much more information do you need to get on a case that you can't prosecute?" she said. "You put your focus on the most recent allegations against the living priests."

Many of the allegations released Friday came to the diocese or state officials during the height of the priest abuse scandal in 2002 and 2003. The flood of reports shows the impact of the public discussion, said church reform activist Paul Kendrick of Cumberland.

"Beyond protecting kids, the most important part of disclosure is that when the names are released more people come forward," Kendrick said. "I suspect that more people will tell their wife or their doctor or their therapist that 'this happened to me, too.' "

Bishop Richard J. Malone issued a written statement saying the release of the records could bring pain, as well as comfort.

"I pray that this disclosure will provide a measure of peace for victims who were abused in the past and for their families. I am also concerned for the victims who have dealt with this pain in a quiet way, who have moved on with their lives and who have told us that they would prefer not to be reminded of their ordeal," he wrote.

"I pray for families and friends who are seeing the name of a beloved relative on this list. God forbid there are any priests listed who were falsely accused," he wrote. "And finally, I hope people will show some compassion for the dozens of wonderful priests ministering today in our diocese who must continue their mission under this horrible cloud."

Diocesan spokeswoman Sue Bernard said church officials had not contacted relatives of the priests and that many families did not know about the allegations. The families did not know in many cases, she said, because the allegations could not be verified or corroborated.

"This is a list of the accused. This is not a list of the guilty," Bernard said. "In many cases these allegations came forward long after the person's death."

Cynthia Desrosiers, an advocate for victims, said releasing the names and records is an overdue step toward helping victims and parishes come to terms with what happened.

"I wanted them to release the names right away. I definitely thought the public needed to know," said Desrosiers, who was abused by a Massachusetts priest when she was a girl and is a former Maine coordinator of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

She said the names of living priests also should be made public, and she hopes news outlets will publicize the priests' names and their former parishes so people can talk about it more openly.

"Most survivors don't come forward until many years later," she said. "There still could be a lot of people suffering and not getting the help they need."

 
 

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