BishopAccountability.org
 
  Diocese Still Drawing a Line

By John Richardson
Portland Press Herald [Maine]
July 17, 2005

Larry Gray arrived at St. Maximilian Kolbe in Scarborough to sing with the choir July 3 when the priest greeted him and pointed out an unusual insert in the church bulletin.

The bulletin contained the names of nine priests, all now dead, accused of sexually abusing children in Maine decades ago. One of those listed was the Rev. James Vallely, the priest Gray reported as having sexually abused him repeatedly when he was an altar boy growing up on Portland's West End in the 1950s.

Circulating the list - both in church bulletins across the state and in a news release - was an unprecedented step for Maine's Roman Catholic Church. The Diocese of Portland has generally protected the privacy of accused priests. It opposed legal efforts that opened up state records on a total of 25 dead priests and church officials.

The decision to identify nine of those priests reflects the continuing pressure on the U.S. church for more openness as more victims come forward, courts issue rulings and the Vatican defrocks accused priests a handful at a time.

It also illustrates how, more than three years after the scandal erupted in Boston, the church lacks a broad policy on how much and what to say about clergy sexual abuse.

"We're all treading on very new ground," said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese.

The decision to name the nine priests followed the court-ordered release in May of the Attorney General's Office investigative records on deceased priests accused of abuse. Allegations against a total of 23 priests, one brother and one nun have ultimately been made public.

Maine church officials had opposed the public release of the records, citing the reputation of priests who could no longer defend themselves against accusations that may or may not be substantiated.

After the court's decision and the news reports that followed, Bishop Richard Malone called together Maine's Diocesan Review Board, a panel of 10 advisers that includes lay people with expertise in law, psychology and other fields.

The board and bishop decided which cases likely would have led to the priests' removal from active ministry if they were still alive. They decided to publicly identify those nine priests and distinguish them from the other cases, which they felt did not include enough detail or substantiation to meet the standard.

"We still feel pretty strongly about how the dead can't defend themselves," Bernard said. "But now we do have a court decision, and if we reach out in this way we're hoping to be able to have victims/survivors come forward."

Bernard said that has happened, although she would not say how many new victims and allegations have come forward.

A CONTROVERSIAL LIST

Church leaders expected their list to be controversial, and it has been.

Some parishioners were angry that the church put the information in their bulletins, saying it was unfair to the priests and would hurt their families, Bernard said.

Others say naming the nine was more about public relations for the church than about getting help to abuse victims.

Gray saw it as another example of the church protecting itself and saying only what it must. "I think they just don't take it seriously," he said. "They are grudgingly giving (information) out."

Gray is a 57-year-old chiropractor and grandfather who lives in Scarborough. In 1993, he went to the bishop's office in Portland to report sexual abuse by Vallely, and he invited a TV reporter to come along.

It was the first time Gray spoke up about how Vallely molested him at least once a week for a period of two to three years in the 1950s when he was an altar boy at St. Dominic's church in Portland.

"Keeping the secret was my 11th commandment," he said. "I had the sense of being trapped, being boxed in . . . The priest is God's right hand on earth. He couldn't do anything wrong. I was the one was doing wrong."

The church acknowledged at the time that Vallely had also been accused by one other man. Three more reports would follow. Vallely, who was retired in Florida at the time, was quietly removed from active ministry.

The church's decision this month to put nine names in the Sunday bulletin may help some more victims, Gray said. But he doesn't believe the church has changed or embraced openness. It's just that the courts and the media have forced it to respond, he said, just like he and a TV crew did in 1993.

Stephen G. Roy is a social worker in Portland who has worked with sexual abuse victims and also a leader of the Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful. He said the church could have released the names years ago.

"If they are truly interested in healing, not only would they put the list out there but they would put out the list of every parish where the priests served and they would go to every parish and . . . find the victims," Roy said. "It's a search and rescue mission is what it is."

Roy and other critics say the church should also name all the living priests accused of abuse, both to help past victims and to protect children who may come in contact with them today.

They believe the church's naming of the nine priests sent a painful message that those who accused the other priests are not considered credible.

Most of the accused priests left off the list are the subject of a single allegation, although three were accused by more than one person.

Bernard said church officials did not decide the other accusations were not true and that the diocese will help anyone who reports abuse.

"We're merely saying there's not enough information in the file to go public with this," she said.

She said living priests with substantiated accusations against them have been removed from active ministry. And unlike dead priests, they now face potential removal, or laicization, by the Vatican.

Whether the church should open its files and name accused priests remains a point of tension around the country. The Catholic Church's national guidelines say dioceses should reach out to victims and their families and "be open and transparent" in communicating with the public while respecting the privacy and reputation of the individuals involved.

Each individual bishop and diocese interprets that in their own way, said Bill Ryan, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A handful of dioceses, including those in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Tucson, Ariz., published the names of accused priests on their Web sites.

Most bishops, including Maine's, however, have resisted that kind of openness and leaned toward the protection of privacy and reputations. Some bishops continue to fight court orders to release information on specific cases that are the subject of lawsuits.

"What you're seeing now is that there are more and more dioceses that are releasing the names of priests that have been laicized," said Dennis Coday of the National Catholic Reporter.

HUNDREDS OF CASES UNDER REVIEW

American dioceses have sent more than 750 cases of accused sexual abuse by clergy to the Vatican for review and possible laicization. More than 500 of those cases have been reviewed and returned. Church officials in Boston, New Hampshire and New York have recently named several men laicized by the Vatican, Coday said.

The Portland diocese has said it has taken steps to defrock 17 men who have already been removed from the active ministry for alleged sexual abuse of children. None of Maine's cases has been returned and there is no time frame for the ecclesiastical court in Rome, Bernard said.

Bernard said the diocese will make a public announcement about the removal of any Maine priests. And, she said, church leaders will continue talking about what the diocese should or should not say about the cases.

"We're considering what all the other dioceses are doing," she said. "That's a matter of discernment and discussion all the time."

 
 

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