Mainers Urged to Stay Vigilant on Priest Abuse

By Gregory D. Kesich
Portland Press Herald
August 26, 2003


Mainers should not become complacent about clergy sex abuse just because governmental activity on the issue appears to be winding down, says a national leader in the movement to expose abusive priests and the church hierarchy that protected them.

David Clohessy of St. Louis, Mo., director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, visited Maine and Massachusetts last weekend to meet with people who say they were molested and the organizations that are working on their behalf.

Clohessy said an anticipated report by Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe on his department's investigations of clergy abuse claims should not be the end of the public's interest in the issue.

"We hope that whatever is in the report is considered a starting point for lay Catholics and others interested in church reform," Clohessy said. "Whatever is in that report is only a partial diagnosis, not for lack of trying by the attorney general. People need to keep asking, 'What's the remedy? What's the cure?' "

Clohessy's visit comes as the priest abuse scandal appears to be nearing closure, in Maine and around the region. Last month, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly issued a scathing report that criticized church hierarchy for quietly settling abuse claims and moving alleged perpetrators to new parishes. The Archdiocese of Boston has offered $55 million to settle more than 500 abuse lawsuits.

On Saturday, John Geoghan, the defrocked priest who was alleged to have abused nearly 150 children as a priest in several Massachusetts communities, was killed in his jail cell. His death put an end to two possible criminal trials and many more civil complaints against him.

Investigators from the Maine Attorney General's Office have been reviewing claims of abuse that include an unknown number of allegations against 33 living and 18 dead priests and other clergy members who were named in personnel records turned over by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Also, claims that were made to victims' groups and directly to prosecutors were investigated.

Rowe said last month that no decisions have been made on whether criminal charges will be filed or if the report will name the priests who were subject to allegations. Kennebec County District Attorney Evert Fowle told the Associated Press on Monday that he expects Rowe's report to be released in late September.

Clohessy said that he hopes the report will name the priests and others accused of abuse, even if the allegations cannot support criminal charges. He said he was troubled by Rowe's opposition to a lawsuit filed by the Blethen Maine Newspapers, seeking the names of the 18 priests accused of abuse who are now dead.

If Rowe does not name those accused of abuse, Clohessy said, Bishop Joseph Gerry should.

Gerry is expected to submit his request for retirement on Sept. 12, his 75th birthday, in compliance with Catholic canon law, said diocesan spokeswoman Sue Bernard. His replacement will be named by the pope and there is no way of knowing how long that process will take.

Clohessy said before the bishop leaves the diocese, he has an opportunity to help put an end to the sex abuse scandal by publicly naming priests who Gerry knows have abused children. The disclosure is important, Clohessy said, so parents can protect their children from people with a history of abuse. And it is helpful for victims, who are often tortured by the effects of abuse decades after it took place.

"The pain of the victims and their families is ongoing and constant," he said. "There always have been and always will be predators in every walk of life and we all have to be vigilant."

Clohessy's visit to New England coincided with news of Geoghan's murder, which Clohessy described as "a tragedy heaped on tragedy."

Geoghan was not the first priest accused of abusing many children, but his case brought national attention to the issue in 2001. Clohessy said it was different because it exposed a pattern of hiding priests known to abuse children through confidential settlements and transfers by bishops who supervised them.

"It blew a hole in the 'bad apple' theory," he said. "We were not just dealing with a bad priest, but a bad system."

After 18 months of disclosures and reforms, Clohessy said there could still be another Geoghan case. He said church reforms have been made in response to public pressure, and he is not ready to relax.

"The charitable part of me wants to say that it's too early to tell, but the cautious part says, let's not let our guard down," he said. "So far, it's un- tested words on paper, and we shouldn't gamble on our children's safety."

Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at:

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