Maine Diocese Investigates Sex-Abuse Charges against Former Fall River Priest

Associated Press, carried in Standard-Times
December 11, 2007

FALL RIVER — A retired Roman Catholic priest who once served in Fall River has been temporarily removed from ministry in Maine following a complaint of sexual abuse of a minor, church officials said.

While church officials in Maine made the announcement, the abuse allegedly occurred in the early 1980s in Massachusetts.

The Rev. Maurice Lebel was rector of the Jesuit Community at Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River from 1973-76 and a counselor for diocesan Catholic Social Services from 1976-86, at its offices in Fall River and then Attleboro.

The Rev. Lebel was transferred by the Jesuits from the Fall River diocese to the Portland diocese in 1986.

In 1991, the Rev. Lebel left the Jesuits and became a priest of the Portland diocese. As a result, the Diocese of Fall River is not running the investigation.

"The investigation is being done by the Diocese of Portland, because he is a priest of Portland," said John Kearns, spokesman for the Fall River diocese. "We will do what we're called upon to do."

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.

When the diocese shared preliminary information with Massachusetts officials in June, the diocese says it 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 that after reviewing the initial complaint and preliminary evidence, Bishop Richard Malone restricted the Rev. Lebel from all ministry until a diocesan investigation could be completed.

The allegation involves an individual from Massachusetts claiming to have been assaulted and sexually abused between the ages of 15 and 17. The exact time and details of the allegations were not immediately available.

"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 said.

A spokeswoman for the diocese could not provide information to the AP about how to reach the Rev. Lebel for comment.

A telephone message left on an answering machine at St. Mary's church in Wells, where the Rev. Lebel worked after retirement, was not immediately returned.

The Rev. Lebel, 74, was born in Brunswick, Maine, and entered the Society of Jesus in 1959.

Besides his time in Fall River, he taught at Cranwell Preparatory School in Lenox from 1968-71.


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