Victim Sues to Recoup Therapy Cost
By Gregory D. Kesich
Portland Press Herald [Maine]
January 7, 2004
One victim of sexual abuse by a Maine priest says the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is not living up to the promises made in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal, and he has taken his case to small claims court.
David Gagnon of Ottawa, Ontario, has filed a $700 claim against Bishop Joseph Gerry of Portland for failing to pay therapy bills, as Gerry promised to do several times, including in an open letter published in newspapers two years ago.
Church officials say they never refused Gagnon, but only asked for more information about the alternative treatment he was receiving called Jin Shin Do, which uses the Japanese technique of acupressure to resolve physical manifestations of mental trauma.
Gagnon, 39, said the bishop's promise to pay for treatment was not limited. He is asking a judge to force the bishop to pay the bill.
At issue is a promise made by Gerry in an open letter published in April 2002.
"Once again I urge all victims to come forward," Gerry wrote. "I want to reassure you that when someone comes forward, the diocese will pay for counseling, will offer spiritual counseling, and will apologize for their pain and suffering."
Gagnon first came forward in 1991 and reported that he had been abused as a boy by the Rev. Michael Doucette, who was assigned to St. Andre Church in Biddeford. Gagnon reached a settlement with the church in 1993.
Doucette confirmed the allegation and was sent to a residential treatment program. He was allowed to return to parish work until 2002, when Gerry removed him from the active priesthood.
Last year, Gagnon took Gerry up on his offer and began sending his therapy bills to the diocese. He said the church paid all his bills until last fall, when on the recommendation of his therapist at the Ottawa-based Centre for Treatment of Sexual Abuse & Childhood Trauma, he began receiving Jin Shin Do treatments.
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, except that instead of using needles the therapist presses certain points of the body, said Allaine Nordin, who treated Gagnon. The treatment, she said, can be used to treat pain that is both physical and psychological.
In cases of childhood abuse, the treatment seeks to relieve painful memories, she said.
"Memories are held in the cells of the body," Nordin said. "They can be brought forward so peaceful resolution can be brought to the mind."
Gagnon said he needs the therapy because the trauma he suffered as a child prevents him from trusting others in physical relationships. He said he can't afford treatment because he has been unemployed or underemployed for a decade, which he also blames on his abuse.
"I want to be at a point in my life that I am not a victim anymore, but in recovery from what was done to me," he said. "Unfortunately, I'm not there yet."
Gagnon filed a complaint in Maine District Court on Dec. 15, 2003, and Gerry received notification on Dec. 30. A hearing in the case has not been scheduled.
Diocesan spokeswoman Sue Bernard said the diocese did not refuse to pay Gagnon's bills, but did ask for more information about the treatment and its relation to his abuse. She said Gagnon did not get prior approval for Jin Shin Do therapy. The treatment is not covered by most health insurance plans in Maine.
"He was supposed to be in touch with the diocese," she said. "In this case the bill came to us and the therapy had already taken place."
Bernard said she does not know how many people have asked the church to pay for their therapy, but said no one who has requested assistance has been refused.
Although there are no specific guidelines on the types of treatment, victims are asked to explain how their treatment is related to the abuse they suffered, she said.
"There has to be a dialogue on what expenses you are incurring and how does it relate," she said.
Gagnon said he was told to send his bill to the diocese and nothing more.
"There were never any parameters or limits or expiration dates," he said. "The question I have is, do they want us to get better or not?"
Although Gagnon is suing Gerry, the bishop will not have to appear in court, said the diocese's attorney, Frederick Moore of Robinson Kriger & McCallum. The bishop is considered a corporation under Maine law and can be represented in a small claims case, Moore said.
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