Former Lowell Priest Took His Life Five Months after Abuse Allegation
By Jack Minch and Robert Mills
July 11, 2008
LOWELL -- Five months before his June 26 suicide, former Lowell priest James P. Robichaud was told by the Diocese of Portland, Maine, about a single allegation of sexual abuse against him.
The revelation came this week as the diocese released additional details about the allegation.
"At the time of his death, it did not seem appropriate to discuss publicly many details about the complaint and our procedure," Bishop Richard Malone said in a statement. "It was a time for grieving and we still grieve today about this horrific tragedy."
Malone was vacationing and not available for further comment yesterday.
The diocese reported it learned of the allegation in January, then told the civil authorities and held an initial interview with Robichaud.
Immediately after his death, a diocese spokesman said Robichaud had only been told of the allegation hours before his suicide.
The probe back in January quickly stalled.
Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston attorney representing the alleged victim from Lowell, would not let his now-middle-aged client talk to diocese officials unless he got to speak with Robichaud, whose own lawyer apparently objected.
"My client was always willing to speak to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (in Lowell) and Portland if I could interview Father Robichaud," Garabedian told The Sun yesterday.
The diocese said a complaint can usually be processed more quickly when there is full cooperation by the accuser and the accused.
The diocese said it determined there was a "semblance of truth" to the allegation, but since it could not move the investigation forward, it suspended Robichaud from his duties on June 26.
Robichaud shot himself in the head in the rectory at his Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, church that night, police said. It was his 56th birthday.
Barbara Dorris, an outreach director in St. Louis for the support group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, issued a statement yesterday expressing outrage over the time lapse between notification of the allegation and Robichaud's suspension.
"It certainly didn't take six months to determine whether a child sex-abuse report against Robichaud contained a 'semblance of truth,' " she said. "In those six months, we can just hope that Robichaud didn't molest a child, intimidate a witness, threaten a victim, destroy some evidence or hurt anyone in any way."
Robichaud was ordained and took vows as a member of the religious order Oblates of Mary Immaculate before being assigned to St. Jean-Baptiste Church in Lowell in 1979.
He soon started molesting the young teenage girl and continued for an undisclosed number of years, according to Garabedian.
Robichaud served in a number of assignments in Lowell, including pastor of Notre Dame de Lourdes, chaplain for Lowell General Hospital and chaplain for the Lowell police and fire departments.
Robichaud, a native of Maine, moved to the Portland Diocese in 2000 to be closer to his family. His transfer was official in 2003.
The Oblates were told of the accusation in January and forwarded it to Portland. No other accusations have sprung either from Robichaud's time with the Oblates or the Portland Diocese.
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