Church Urged to Open up on Abuse Issue

John Richardson
Portland Press Herald [Maine]
February 25, 2004

The end of a two-year state investigation will not be the end of the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal in Maine, according to victims and church reformers.

Instead, they said, the report released Tuesday should add pressure for a more open discussion of the crisis within the church.

"The parishioners need to step forward and say, 'What happened in our parish?' " said Michael Sweatt, a leader of the Voice of the Faithful reform group and a victim of sexual abuse as a boy. More openness by church leaders will help more victims come forward and begin healing, and will restore faith in church leadership, he said.

Attorney General Steven Rowe released a report Tuesday saying there have been sexual abuse allegations against 63 priests and church employees in the past 75 years. All of the allegations are too old to prosecute under Maine law, he said.

The report identifies five priests who already had been charged with crimes, but not the 58 other accused priests and church employees. Rowe said state law prevents him from revealing the identities of those men.

At the same time, Rowe is appealing a September court order saying his office can and should turn over records relating to dead priests who can no longer face prosecution. The order resulted from a lawsuit filed by Blethen Maine Newspapers, owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Rowe defended his appeal in that case Tuesday, saying he disagreed with the judge's order that the identities of victims should also be revealed.

"(Rowe) has done what he can do," said Michael Doherty, who was abused by a priest and track coach while a student at Cheverus High School in Portland.

Doherty said church leaders, on the other hand, have not gone far enough and should talk more openly about the problem, not just continue trying to protect the church. "It should not be a legal issue for them," he said.

The laws that prevent the attorney general from revealing details or identities do not apply to the Portland Diocese, Rowe said Tuesday. "That's up to the diocese," he said.

Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese and Bishop Joseph Gerry, said the church already has opened up by inviting law enforcement agencies to review its personnel files. The church's offer to open those files led to the state investigation and report issued Tuesday.

"We did what we felt we could do under our authority, which was to turn over all the information," she said. "We feel that to make a public notification and to label a person as a risk is something a public authority should do."

Cyndi Desrosiers, a victim of abuse and an advocate for others in Maine, said she knows there are more victims, and the church needs to help them come to terms with their abuse. "The pressure's not off the Catholic Church," she said.


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