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  Old Town Priest Used Gay Web Site

Bangor Daily News [Portland ME]
Download September 9, 2003

PORTLAND - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland on Monday identified a priest who participated in sexually explicit e-mail exchanges on a now-defunct Web site for gay clergy.The Rev. Normand Richard of Holy Family Parish in Old Town is the third current or retired Maine priest to be linked to the St. Sebastian's Angels Web site.

The Web site was shut down in 2000 after the conservative Roman Catholic Foundation exposed its existence. At the time, the Portland diocese confirmed that three Maine priests had used the site, but only two of the priests were identified.

Diocese spokeswoman Sue Bernard confirmed Richard's involvement Monday after a co-founder of the Maine chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic reform group, named him over the weekend.

Voice of the Faithful had been calling on the diocese to name the third Maine priest involved with the Web site.

One of the group's founders, Paul Kendrick, said he uncovered Richard's identity by cross-referencing a current e-mail list of Maine priests with e-mail addresses from the defunct St. Sebastian's Web site that had been preserved by the Roman Catholic Foundation.

Through the foundation, Kendrick said he also located an e-mail message from Richard posted in 1999 in which Richard made reference to a relationship he had nine years earlier with a transitional deacon studying for the priesthood under his supervision. Bernard said Monday that Richard was placed on sabbatical and sent away for treatment in 1991 after diocese officials learned of the relationship. The deacon, who was an adult when the incident occurred, never was ordained a priest, she said.

Richard was disciplined but not suspended in 2000 for his involvement with the Web site, Bernard said, stressing that the priest's postings on the site did not make reference to minors.

On Monday, Kendrick and Voice of the Faithful co-founder Michael Sweat, called for Bishop Joseph J. Gerry to remove Richard as pastor of the Old Town parish.

Bernard did not expect Gerry would take such action.

"Discipline in these matters takes on different levels," she said. "This had not risen to the level where the bishop would need to remove someone. It's horribly embarrassing and humiliating for [Richard] to have this made public, but this is a sin, not a crime. It's embarrassing when you have your sins out in public."

Richard was on vacation Monday and unavailable for comment, according to a secretary at his church.

Randy Bernard, an active Old Town parish member, said Monday afternoon that he was unaware of Richard's participation in the Web site.

"Knowing Father Norm, I find it very hard to believe," he said. "I had no knowledge of it. I would need hard proof before I would go and condemn him. I'm a Christian. I believe in forgiveness."

A Lewiston native, Richard was ordained in 1972 in Lisbon. In addition to the Old Town church, he has served parishes in Fort Kent, Lewiston, Biddeford, Jackman, Waterville and Millinocket.

The two other Maine priests previously linked to the Web site were the Revs. Antonin Caron and John Harris.

Harris, who created the St. Sebastian's Angels Web site, was sent to an out-of-state program in March 2000 after the Web site revelations and reassigned to Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church in Oquossoc three months later.

He took a voluntary leave of absence last month from that church to pursue his education out of state, according to Bernard. Harris' departure followed new allegations that he swam nude and went hot-tubbing with minors in the 1980s.

Harris' leave of absence has the same practical effect as a bishop's removing a priest from active ministry, Bernard said last week. Gerry would have done that if Harris had not asked for the leave, she said. Bernard pointed out that the priest "can't have any priestly ministry" while on leave.

Caron had been retired for more than six years when his involvement with the Web site was revealed.

Unrelated to the Internet matter, a Washington County jury had found Caron not guilty in March 1994 of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact, assault and sexual abuse of a minor. He was accused of assaulting a 13-year-old girl in the Baileyville church where he was pastor. Caron's defense against the charges was that he would not have assaulted the girl because he is gay.

He retired due to a "disability" before the charges had been filed, according to Bernard.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 
 

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