Maine Lawyer Joins Catholic Reform Effort

By Gregory D. Kesich
Portland Press Herald [Maine]
October 22, 2004

A prominent Portland attorney will serve on a national board established by Roman Catholic bishops to monitor the church's response to the child sex abuse crisis.

Ralph Lancaster Jr., 74, has been appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to serve on the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People. He is one of five new members named last week to three-year terms.

The board was formed in 2002, and has issued reports on the scandal that have been critical of the church's hierarchy. The committee's work has helped quantify the size and scope of the abuse crisis. It also examines the effectiveness of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the bishops' plan to prevent future abuse.

In a written statement, Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the conference, said that the review board is "vitally important in assisting the bishops of the United States in dealing with crisis of the sexual abuse of minors within the church."

In addition to the new appointments, one board member, Nicholas Cafardi, dean of the Duquesne University School of Law, has been elevated to serve as chairman.

Lancaster is a partner at Pierce Atwood, a 100-lawyer firm, which is the largest firm north of Boston.

Lancaster has a varied resume, handling cases in state, federal and international courts.

In addition to representing private clients, he has twice been named a special master by the U.S. Supreme Court to decide border disputes between states. In 1984, he was counsel for the United States in the International Court of Justice in a dispute between Canada and the United States.

In 1998, Lancaster was appointed an independent counsel investigating allegations of wrongdoing by Alexis Herman, who was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. He also defended New Hampshire Chief Justice David Brock during an impeachment process in 2000.

Last year, Gov. John Baldacci asked Lancaster to investigate reports of abuse at the state's two juvenile detention facilities. His report became the blueprint for reform efforts at the Long Creek and Mountain View youth development centers.

Lancaster said he did not seek a seat on the bishops' review board, but agreed to serve when he was called. He said he is a practicing Catholic, but would not comment on how the sexual abuse scandal has affected him.

"People who are in this position have to be very careful about making any remarks that could be attributed to them" in their official role, Lancaster said.

Lancaster's appointment and the work of the review board was praised by one of the church's most active critics.

Paul Kendrick of Portland, who has worked with groups including Voice of the Faithful and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the board's reports have legitimized some of the claims made by outsiders. Lancaster, he said, will be a good addition.

"He is one of the most well-respected people in the state of Maine," Kendrick said. "He's a good, decent guy and would not put up with any dishonesty."


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