|Fact Check - Diocese Details Sex Abuse Claims
National Survivor Advocates Coalition
January 15, 2009
NOTE - Full text of original article follows the Statement-Fact section
Statement – Diocesan spokeswoman Susan Bernard said Tuesday that the unprecedented release of information was intended to show that allegations against Lee were made by many people, not just one or two, as some parishioners have concluded.” We felt the need to do it now, because we were told recently that the community in Boothbay Harbor was being critical of complainants,” Bernard said.
Fact — The decision by diocese officials to release information about the number of child sex abuse allegations made against Thomas Lee occurred for one reason, and one reason only - the persistence of survivor advocates. If it were not for the voices of those who spoke clearly and forcefully on behalf of Marie Tupper, Bishop Malone would have remained silent on this issue. Bernard neglects to mention that Malone kept secret the tribunal’s decision about Lee for three months until Marie Tupper and survivor advocates applied intense pressure on Malone to tell the truth about the status of Lee’s case.
Statement — “No one has ever asked us before to quantify the number of complaints in any case as a way of giving more credibility to their complaint, and to help make the community more accepting and understanding of those who make reports.” (Sue Bernard)
Fact — Time and time again during the past seven years, members of Voice of the Faithful, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and other advocates have asked Bishops Gerry and Malone to publish, on the diocese web site, a list of all priests, religious and church workers who have been credibly accused of child sex abuse. Among other things, the list would include the total number of allegations received, the dates the abuse occurred and where the priest was assigned when the abuse occurred.
Statement — Bernard described the allegations against Lee as sexual abuse involving inappropriate touching and violation of privacy, which might entail entering an area where someone might expect another person to be undressed. The allegations did not include rape, she said.
Fact — Those who were sexually abused by Lee when they were children have told us that Lee took small groups of children on overnight trips to a cottage on Sebago Lake. While the kids swam naked, Lee played “flashlight tag” with them. He provided the ten and twelve year old children with alcohol while he played “strip poker” with them. One by one, he took the children into his private bedroom, sprinkled baby powder on their backs as he massaged them and touched all over their bodies. Bernard knows this information, but chose not to provide it.
Statement – “I could never have crystal-balled this kind of behavior and it’s not often that so many people are aware of who is involved in the case,” Bernard said in explaining why the specific information about Lee wasn’t made public earlier. “We want to support anyone who feels persecuted by the community for stepping forward. We hope no one would be hurtful to someone who has the strength to step forward and say they’ve been harmed.”
Fact — Survivor advocates have been speaking out about the mistreatment of the Tupper family for five years, beginning in 2003, when former Boothbay Harbor pastor, Rev. Raymond Picard removed Marie Tupper from the lector list because Marie confronted Bishop Gerry about Lee’s presence at the parish’s 75th anniversary celebration.
(FULL TEXT OF LETTER COMMENTED ABOVE)
Diocese details sex abuse claims
Its intent is to stop criticism in Boothbay Harbor directed at those who made allegations.
By DAVID HENCH Staff Writer
Press Herald- Maine Today
January 14, 2009
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has for the first time revealed details of the number and nature of child sexual abuse allegations against a priest — an effort, the diocese says, to counter public criticism of those who made the allegations.
Nine people reported to the church that they were inappropriately touched or had their privacy violated by the Rev. Thomas Lee, and church investigators became aware of five other possible victims from secondhand reports, according to a statement by the church. The 14 alleged victims are all from the Boothbay Harbor area, where Lee served as parish priest from 1971 to 1985. None were from Lyman, where he worked from 1985 to 2003, when he was removed from ministry because of credible allegations of misconduct.
The church previously described the claims against Lee as “more than two” or “multiple.”
Diocesan spokeswoman Susan Bernard said Tuesday that the unprecedented release of information was intended to show that allegations against Lee were made by many people, not just one or two, as some parishioners have concluded.
“We felt the need to do it now, because we were told recently that the community in Boothbay Harbor was being critical of complainants,” Bernard said. “No one has ever asked us before to quantify the number of complaints in any case as a way of giving more credibility to their complaint, and to help make the community more accepting and understanding of those who make reports.”
Bernard chose to refer to complainants generically because, she said, she did not want to single out anyone. But the church’s release seems aimed directly at those at Our Lady Queen of Peace and others who have criticized Marie Tupper, a woman who says her son was abused by Lee and who has insisted on meeting with Bishop Richard Malone about the behavior.
Tupper received an e-mail from one parishioner suggesting she should find another church and that she and the group supporting her were “pathetic” and employed “terrorist” tactics. A letter in a local weekly newspaper also scolded Tupper for her continued criticism of Lee.
Tupper and her mother also have faced hostile confrontations in town, said Paul Kendrick, an advocate for victims of sexual abuse by priests, who was asked by Tupper to speak on her behalf.
“Instead of ridiculing her or saying things to her and her mother in the supermarket, a Christian community, one would think by its definition, would be embracing her, trying to understand what it’s like for a mother to have her kid abused by a parish priest, wrapping themselves around a family instead of turning the family away,” Kendrick said.
The hostile reactions by some in the congregation make it harder for abuse victims to come forward, which is important for their mental and physical well-being, he said.
“If you’re a victim of abuse by Lee and you see how the Tupper family has been treated over these past years, you’re certainly less likely to feel comfortable in reporting your own abuse,” Kendrick said.
Kendrick urged Malone to do more to help those parishes dealing with the effects of Lee’s alleged behavior. He said sexual assault agencies should be brought in to talk about child molestation, how it happens, how it can take years before someone is able to divulge it, and the effects it can have on a victim.
The charges against Lee were submitted to a church court, which considered evidence of the allegations in 2007 before deciding in August that the claims had not been proven. The three-person tribunal did say Lee’s actions in the 1980s were imprudent.
Bishop Richard J. Malone appealed the tribunal’s verdict to the Vatican in December, saying he was “stunned and disappointed” by the decision and wanted to make sure all the evidence was properly presented. A decision on whether the Vatican will hear the appeal is still pending.
Bernard described the allegations against Lee as sexual abuse involving inappropriate touching and violation of privacy, which might entail entering an area where someone might expect another person to be undressed. The allegations did not include rape, she said.
The claims against Lee were examined by the diocesan investigator, former Portland Police Deputy Chief John Brennan.
The alleged behavior happened too long ago for criminal charges to result.
The Attorney General’s Office conducted a two-year investigation into allegations collected by the diocese of sexual misconduct by priests, determining in 2004 that none of the cases could be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired.
Under current law, only those allegations of gross sexual assault against children under 16 that have happened since 1985 can be prosecuted. Less serious felony charges of unlawful sexual contact and sexual abuse of a minor can be prosecuted if the crimes occurred during or after 1993. There is no longer a statute of limitations for sex crimes against children, but crimes committed under statutes that had been in effect years ago are still covered.
The church has never before been so specific about allegations against a priest because such investigations are confidential, in part to protect the identities of those making the complaints, Bernard said.
“I could never have crystal-balled this kind of behavior and it’s not often that so many people are aware of who is involved in the case,” Bernard said in explaining why the specific information about Lee wasn’t made public earlier. “We want to support anyone who feels persecuted by the community for stepping forward. We hope no one would be hurtful to someone who has the strength to step forward and say they’ve been harmed.”
Some in the community came to define Tupper as the primary source of allegations against Lee, a popular priest who many parishioners remember fondly.
When Lee returned to the Boothbay Harbor church for its 75th anniversary celebration in 2003, Tupper publicly confronted him and then-Bishop Joseph Gerry. Afterward, Tupper was not included in the list of parish lectors.
Bernard said the diocese continues to encourage anyone who has been a victim of abuse by a church employee or volunteer to report the conduct to civil authorities or to the church through the diocesan investigator at 321-7836. Anyone needing the church outreach service should call 1- 866-829-4437, Bernard said.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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