SNAP Protests Abusive Priest
By Molly Lovell
Old Orchard Beach Courier [Biddeford ME]
February 2, 2007
Two men staged a quiet protest outside of St. James School in Biddeford last Thursday, Jan. 25 handing out leaflets and holding up signs claiming that a priest accused of child sexual abuse is living in the neighborhood.
Paul Kendrick and Harvey Paul were from the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, the nation's largest advocacy group for people abused by religious authority figures. The pair handed out 60 leaflets early Thursday morning and their signs read, "Pedophile Priest Lives Nearby."
Paul, SNAP's Maine coordinator, grew up in Biddeford and said that while attending St. Mary's School he was sexually abused by a Catholic seminarian.
During a phone interview on Friday, he said the priest who was the focus of Thursday's protest was removed from the parish ministry 10 years ago after being accused of molestation and has been living nearby since.
He said the Roman Catholic diocese or the police never charged the priest, whom he only referred to as "Father Mike."
In an unexpected turn of events, Maine Bishop Richard Malone two days later released the names of four former Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse, including 56-year-old Michael Plourde, who served at St. Joseph's Church in Biddeford from 1976 until 1978, and is the man that Kendrick and Paul were referring to.
He has been accused of abusing two minors while serving at St. Joseph's, and according to Bishop-Accountability.org, St. Joseph's was his first assignment. On Tuesday, Sue Bernard, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said that two of the four priests mentioned are still receiving pensions. Plourde, who left the church of his own will, is not one of them, she said.
Malone, along with 14 other dioceses and archdioceses, has recently adopted a policy of identifying priests accused of sexual abuse, whose cases are still awaiting a final disposition from Rome.
Malone said he decided to change the procedure because he was concerned about the risk of re-offence in the cases of those who have not been publicly identified.
On Monday Paul said Malone's actions were "too little, too late."
"Can Bishop Malone assure me he (Plourde) hasn't molested anyone in that time?" Paul asked.
He said he would like to see a comprehensive list of every clergy member who has been removed due to sexual abuse allegations, which would include timelines, dates and current locations more specific than what Malone has released.
"We feel he fell short in protecting kids," Kendrick said of Malone.
He said the pair have requested meetings with Malone and also requested a meeting with St. James Principal Patricia Berthiaume, but the requests were ignored.
"We asked him (Bishop Malone) to look us in the eye and tell us kids in Biddeford were not in danger. We were met with nothing but resistance," Kendrick said.
"We decided to go directly to the parents," he said, of why St. James was chosen as the location of last week's protest.
"The first line of defense in protecting kids from sex abuse is identification and notification . . . even sex assault agencies will say that knowing who the person is and what he or she has done is a way for parents to protect their kids," Kendrick said.
Kendrick said he and other members of SNAP are trying to be sincere about what they're doing, but added, "we're passing on a message that no one seems to want to hear."
Berthiaume said she sympathizes with all victims of abuse and understood the message Kendrick and Paul were sending, but said she didn't think her school was an appropriate place for their demonstration.
"I, as well as a lot of people, am saddened about the experiences that these demonstrators or their family members have experienced as a result of the misconduct of adults or priests. No one can ever really understand the pain these people have gone through," she said.
"We need to continue to pray for them and all victims of sexual abuse," she added.
Berthiaume recognized that Kendrick and Paul were peaceful in their demonstration and didn't pose a threat to the students, however, she did feel that the student's rights were violated.
"It disrupted their sense of security and peacefulness and it was a disruption of their normal routine," she said, and added, "we need to care about them and we need to try to understand what they were here to say, but the forum just was not appropriate."
Berthiaume said an e-mail was sent to the school in October indicating the possibility of a protest after which she notified the parents. The school was alerted again earlier last week of the possibility of a protest.
Berthiaume addressed the children on the matter in an "age appropriate and very Catholic manner," she said.
She explained to them freedom of speech and the first amendment rites Kendrick and Paul are entitled to.
"I was very delicate with them," she said of how she dealt with the students.
Berthiaume said she respects the way Malone has dealt with sexual abuse scandals involving the clergy since accusations began to emerge five years ago.
"Bishop Malone is a staunch advocate of child safety throughout his diocese, he's done everything to assure this and he's committed to the youth of the diocese," she said.
Berthiaume talked about several programs the diocese implemented after the scandals emerged, such as Protecting God's Children and Child Lures Prevention, which teach families how to recognize signs of abuse.
Christopher Jacques, newest member of the Saco City Council and the parent of two young children at the school said on Monday that St. James staff did a good job in notifying the parents about the protest.
"It's always better to err on the side of safety," he said.
Jacques also said that while he would prefer that his children were not exposed to such a protest, he recognized the men's rights, adding that he believes it's the job of parents to educate their children on such issues as sexual predators.
His children have participated in the Child Lures Prevention program and his wife, who teaches bible study classes, has undergone background checks and other precautions — as the church rules state.
"We're taking the necessary steps to keep our kids safe," he said.
Father Reynald Labarre, a local pastor, echoed Berthiaume's and Jacques' sentiments on the demonstration.
"I know they have an issue and I can sympathize with them but I think it's the wrong venue," he said.
"The bishop has agonized over this himself," Labarre said, adding that Malone is doing everything in his power to ensure every child's safety.
He too pointed to the tightening of clergy regulations and educational programs now in place.
"The Catholic church is the safest place there's going to be now for kids," Labarre said.
Paul said on Monday that he will continue to pursue meetings with Malone and is willing to meet with anyone in an effort to protect children.
The men stood outside of St. Joseph's Church on Sunday during a protest similar to Thursday's. Paul said they were met by people who were both angry at their presence in front of the church, along with people who were saddened and surprised by Malone's statements during the weekend.
Kendrick said a 43-year-old man approached him and claimed to have been abused by Plourde when he was a boy.
"He wanted to talk, and we're going to meet with him. It was a very emotional moment," Kendrick said.
"It's time for people to leave the apathy behind. The bishops and their secrecy is what harmed so many children to start with. The time for secrecy is done – it's time to truly protect children and I plan on fighting this until I can't breathe anymore," he said.
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