Clergy Sex Abuse Complaint Aired

Associated Press, carried in Boston Globe
December 10, 2007

PORTLAND, Maine - A complaint of sexual abuse of a minor that allegedly occurred in Massachusetts has led to the removal from ministry of a retired priest of the Diocese of Portland.

At the time of the alleged abuse in the early 1980s, the Rev. Maurice T. Lebel was a member of the Society of Jesus, ministering in Massachusetts, Portland diocesan officials said.

In a statement from the Portland diocese, officials said that in March, a report was received by the Archdiocese of Boston and that Massachusetts civil authorities and the Diocese of Portland were notified, although the name of the complainant was withheld.

In June, the Diocese of Portland received more details about the complaint, including the identity of the complainant, the statement said, and civil authorities in Massachusetts were updated and Maine civil authorities were notified.

Church officials said the Portland Diocese immediately began its own investigation into allegations that an individual from Massachusetts reported having been assaulted and sexually abused between the ages of 15 and 17.

The statement said that 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 statement said.

Church officials in Portland said civil authorities are almost done and are permitting the diocese to notify the public.

Once the civil investigation is complete, the diocese will resume its own investigation to determine whether the restriction on ministry will be permanent, the church statement said. "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."

The statement also said that 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 207-321-7836 and/or local police.

The diocesan statement said that although the complaint involves years when Lebel was a Jesuit priest in Massachusetts, the church investigation is being done by the Portland diocese because in 1991 Lebel became a priest under its auspices.

Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Portland, said yesterday that she believed Lebel still lives in Maine but she did not provide details on how to reach him or a representative.

A telephone message left on an answering machine at St. Mary's Church in Wells, where Lebel was said by the diocese to have worked after retiring, was not immediately returned.

According to the Portland diocese, Lebel, 74, was born in Brunswick, Maine, entered the Society of Jesus in 1959, and was a teaching assistant at Cheverus High School in Portland in 1964.

Ordained a priest of the Jesuits in 1967, the Portland diocese said, his assignments included teaching at Cranwell Preparatory School in Lenox, Mass., 1968-1971; rector of the Jesuit Community, Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River, Mass., 1973-1976; Social and Special Apostolate in Diocese of Fall River, 1976-1977; Catholic Counseling Service of the Diocese of Fall River, 1977-1986; and St. John Parish in Bangor, Maine, 1986-1993.

Officials said that during his tenure at St. John in Bangor, he left the Society of Jesus and became a priest of the Diocese of Portland.


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