|Lawyer for Alleged Victim of Lowell Priest Says His Client 'Saddened' by His Death but Felt Compelled to Report Claims
By Jack Minch
July 2, 2008
LOWELL — Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer who has represented hundreds of clergy sexual-abuse victims in lawsuits, yesterday said his client, the woman who accused the Rev. Jim Robichaud of abusing her for years while he served in Lowell, felt she had no choice but to step forward.
The popular priest, who served at St. Jean-Baptiste Church, and at Notre Dame de Lourdes in the Lower Highlands, and as chaplain of Lowell General Hospital and the Lowell police and fire departments, fatally shot himself after learning Thursday that the Diocese of Portland, Maine, suspended him pending an investigation into the allegations. His body was found by a church employee in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, on Friday morning.
About an hour before Robichaud's 11 a.m. funeral in Augusta, Maine, yesterday, Garabedian released a statement by telephone.
"My client is saddened and respects the grieving of family and friends of Father James P. Robichaud," Garabedian said. "Out of respect for the grieving of family and friends, my client will only state at this time that she felt an obligation to herself and innocent children to report the years of sexual abuse."
He would not give his client's name nor release details of the allegations, saying only that she is now a middle-aged woman who lives in Massachusetts.
She was not available for comment.
"With all due respect and because of the sensitive nature of this matter, my client has asked me speak on her behalf,"
He declined to say whether he represents other clients accusing Robichaud of misconduct, or how long he has been working on the case.
Bishop Richard Malone was not at the chancery and not available for comment yesterday. Spokesman Sue Bernard, who attended Robichaud's funeral, said the diocese will wait about a month before deciding whether to continue the investigation into the allegation.
The diocese held a preliminary investigation before it even approached Robichaud on Thursday, but it was inconclusive, Bernard said. Without a definitive answer, the chancery took the cautious route.
"For the church, it's important to remove anyone who has abused a child or has a credible allegation so we can do a full investigation," Bernard said. "Now there is no need to remove anybody, obviously, so that part of the obligation no longer exists."
She did not say that the allegation against Robichaud is credible, only that the preliminary investigation did not provide enough information to either substantiate or dismiss the allegation.
Ruth Dubuc of Lowell yesterday flatly rejected the claim that Robichaud abused anyone. The accusation does not jibe with the man who gave her uncle last rites when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1987.
"How come all of a sudden it's coming out now if it happened for years?" Dubuc asked. "How come all of a sudden this person is saying something now?"
Dubuc sees no admission of guilt in Robichaud's suicide. It was his way of avoiding painful publicity, Dubuc said.
Melissa King of Lowell was a 12-year-old altar server when Robichaud was assigned to Notre Dame.
He was a beloved member of the parish community, King said, adding that she never sensed he was a threat to her.
Like Dubuc, King is surprised by the accusation of sexual misconduct.
"Honestly, I have a hard time believing it only because, me having been so young, I never felt uncomfortable around him, and it's so hard for me to believe that allegation, only from my personal experience with him," King said.
A clerk at the Oblates of Mary Immaculate on Andover Street referred comment to the Rev. Bill O'Donnell in Washington, D.C., who did not return a call.
Robichaud was ordained and took vows as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate in 1979. He was assigned to St. Jean-Baptiste Church in Lowell from 1979 to 1983, then worked as the chaplain at Lowell General Hospital from 1983-1993, and as pastor of Notre Dame de Lourdes from 1994 to 1999.
When the Oblates were prepared to transfer Robichaud to another part of the country in 2000, Robichaud went to work for the Diocese of Portland. His transfer was official in 2003.
The Oblates got the report of alleged abuse and forwarded it to Portland.
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