Abuse Inquiry Names Retired Priest

Associated Press, carried in Bangor Daily News
December 10, 2007

PORTLAND, Maine — The retired priest who oversaw the $2 million renovation of St. John Catholic Church in Bangor between 1986 and 1991 has been removed temporarily from ministry pending the investigation of a complaint of sexual abuse of a minor in Massachusetts during the early 1980s.

The Rev. Maurice T. Lebel, 74, was removed from ministry in June, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland announced over the weekend. At the time of the alleged complaint, Lebel was a Jesuit — a member of the Society of Jesus — ministering in Massachusetts.

The Maine diocese is conducting its own investigation because in 1991 Lebel, while he was pastor at St. John's, left the Society of Jesus and became a diocesan priest, according to a diocesan press release issued Saturday.

He served as pastor of St. John's from 1986 to 1993, when he oversaw an extensive interior and exterior renovation of the historic York Street church. His next assignments were at St. Mary's in Presque Isle and St. Joseph's in Mars Hill, Sacred Heart in Auburn and St. Catherine of Siena in Norway.

Lebel retired in 2003, but had been serving part time at St. Mary Catholic Church in Wells, according to the diocese. An Associated Press telephone message left at the church was not immediately returned.

The priest apparently still resides in Maine, but diocesan officials have not said where he is living.

Maine church officials in March received a report of the allegation from the Archdiocese of Boston. Massachusetts civil authorities and the Diocese of Portland were notified, but the name of the complainant was withheld at the request of the complainant.

In June, the Maine diocese received more details about the complaint, including the identity of the complainant, according to Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Portland. Civil authorities in Massachusetts were updated, and Maine civil authorities were notified.

The Maine diocese immediately began its own investigation into the complaint involving an individual from Massachusetts claiming to have been assaulted and sexually abused between ages 15 and 17, Bernard said. After reviewing the initial complaint and preliminary evidence available in June, Bishop Richard Malone restricted Lebel from all ministry until a diocesan investigation could be completed.

When the diocese shared its preliminary information with Massachusetts authorities in June, the Diocese of Portland was told to suspend its investigation and make no public statements about the case until Massachusetts authorities had conducted their own probe, the press release said.

Because civil authorities are close to completing their investigation, Bernard said, they permitted the diocese to notify parishioners and the public. Once the civil investigation is completed, the diocese has said it will resume its own investigation to determine whether the restriction on ministry will be permanent.

"The decision to restrict Father Lebel from ministry is not to be construed as prejudging the outcome of the investigation. This action is intended to facilitate the investigation," Bernard said over the weekend.

Lebel was born in Brunswick, Maine, entered the Society of Jesus in 1959 and as a scholastic was a teaching assistant at Cheverus High School in Portland in 1964.

Ordained a priest of the Jesuits in 1967, his assignments included teaching at Cranwell Preparatory School in Lenox, Mass., 1968-1971; rector of the Jesuit Community, Bishop Connolly High School, Fall River, Mass., 1973-1976; Social and Special Apostolate in Diocese of Fall River, Mass., 1976-1977; Catholic Counseling Service of the Diocese of Fall River, 1977-1986.

"During this time, as always," Bernard said, "Bishop Malone is encouraging anyone who may have information on this case or any case of sexual abuse of a minor by a church representative to contact Deacon John Brennan, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the diocese, at 321-7836 and-or the local police."


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