Bishop: Church Meets Abuse-Prevention Goal

By Elbert Aull
Portland Press Herald
December 20, 2006

Maine's Catholic Church is now in compliance with guidelines requiring criminal background checks for all employees and volunteers who work with children, according to information released Tuesday.

Bishop Richard Malone announced that an annual audit found the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is in full compliance with 13 abuse-prevention standards adopted in 2002 after the national clergy sex abuse scandal.

Bishop Richard Malone

The results are an improvement over last year, when a similar audit revealed the diocese was one of five nationwide -- out of nearly 200 -- that failed to perform enough background checks. Auditors also determined the diocese's sex-abuse prevention training program failed to meet standards.

"Sending in the delinquent paperwork and setting up needed training classes were daunting tasks, and it was gratifying to see everyone involved prioritize the safety of children for now and the future," Malone said in a prepared statement released Tuesday afternoon.

This year's audit revealed that about 79 percent of children in the state's Catholic programs received sex-abuse prevention training as of June 30, up from about 33 percent last year.

Auditors reported that all 4,926 active clergy, employees and volunteers in the Maine church had background checks, up from 87 percent last year.

Paul Kendrick of Cumberland, an advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse, said improvements in training and background checks are a positive step.

Kendrick has been highly critical of Malone's decision not to release the name of every priest facing a credible abuse allegation, and reiterated his plea for identification Tuesday based on comments Malone made at a press conference in Bangor.

Malone told reporters he is considering releasing the names of 13 inactive priests with sex abuse cases winding their way through the church's court system, saying the process is taking too long.

"The bishop has always said when the Holy See made a decision, we would make them public," said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese. "It has taken longer than he had hoped."

Bernard said the outstanding cases have been pending in Rome for months. The accused face laicization, or removal from the priesthood, but cannot be tried in criminal court because the alleged misconduct occurred too long ago.

"The bishop is saying he's at least looking at (releasing the names) again," she said.

Kendrick said that because the men are inactive priests accused of wrongdoing that took place years ago, they could pose a danger if they live near children.

Training courses and background checks are great, but "the real line of defense is identification and notification," he said.

The diocese received four complaints of sexual abuse -- two against priests and two against other church employees -- from mid-December 2005 to August, the period covered in the audit, Bernard said.

The complaints targeted one priest who died almost three decades ago and another whom neither the victim nor the diocese has been able to identify, she said.

Church officials dismissed an organist at Holy Spirit Parish in Waterville earlier this year after finding that credible complaints had been made against Toni Breton that were not related to her church work. Another accusation targeted a former employee who no longer lives in the state or works for the church, Bernard said.

The diocese dismissed five people who failed criminal background checks during the audit period, bringing to 14 the number of employees or volunteers who have failed the screenings since 2003.

The latest report will be forwarded to the church's national Office of Child and Youth Protection, which will release a national report on the audits early next year, Bernard said.

Staff Writer Elbert Aull can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.