Vatican Defrocks Retired Maine Priest, Saying He Sexually Abused Minor in 1980s
Portland Press Herald
June 10, 2016
The Vatican has defrocked a retired Maine priest after church officials say they substantiated claims that he sexually abused a minor in the 1980s.
Antonin R. Caron, 73, of Lewiston denied that any abuse took place and said that the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church in recent years lead church officials to believe those who allege that abuse has taken place, and not the accused priests.
“People can say bad things about you and they take (up) for the people,” Caron said during a phone interview Friday.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican gave a final decision regarding Caron, according to a statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland on Friday. Caron has been retired from active ministry since 1994 and was stripped of his ability to perform priestly duties after the diocese received a complaint in November 2012 about sexual abuse that occurred decades before. He was told of the decision to have him “dismissed from the clerical state” on Monday.
“It’s not really worth being a priest any more,” Caron said, referring to what he perceives as the church’s propensity for believing accusers.
Dave Guthro, a spokesman for the Portland Diocese, said the church’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse “are always conducted with no preconceived belief of innocence or guilt,” and involves an investigation, a finding by a Diocesan Review Board made up primarily of lay people, and finally, it goes to the Vatican for a final determination. There’s no appeal from the final decision, which was confirmed by Pope Francis, Guthro said.
The diocese began investigating Caron for “reported incidents” of abuse between 1982 and 1986, according to a Diocese statement issued in 2012.
Caron had a history of disciplinary and legal troubles, the diocese said at the time.
In 1993, he was charged with sexually assaulting a woman but was acquitted in a trial. He has no other criminal record.
In March 2000, the church suspended Caron for several months for his involvement with a now-defunct website for gay clergymen. After that suspension in 2000, Caron resumed his ministry throughout Maine until 2010.
Caron said Friday that he only signed up for the website, a newsgroup or listserve, to “counsel” gay priests.
Asked if he was gay, Caron said, “I don’t know what I am, but I’m certainly not actively gay.”
The newsgroup functioned “like an AA meeting,” he said, where priests could discuss their struggles with their sexuality and other members of the group could comment.
Caron said a lay person “snuck in” to the newsgroup and turned over a list of those involved to church officials. When church officials asked him to stop subscribing to the newsgroup, he did so, Caron said, and accepted the suspension.
After receiving the 2012 complaint, the Diocesan Office of Professional Responsibility conducted an investigation and notified authorities. The diocese referred the case to the Diocesan Review Board, which found that the abuse took place.
Caron said one case in which he was accused of abuse involved accusations that he “touched” a 6-year-old boy. He acknowledged that he knew the boy’s parents, who were members of the parish where he was a priest at the time, but denied that any abuse took place. Caron refused to provide any more details about that case, including the name of the boy or where the incident allegedly took place.
The Vatican’s decision means Caron can no longer function or present himself as a priest. Caron retired from active ministry for medical reasons in 1994 and stepped down from public ministry in 2010.
Caron said he’s not sure of the practical implications of the ruling, beyond his inability to conduct masses. He said he receives a pension from the church and Guthro said that Caron was vested in a government-approved retirement plan and the diocese cannot legally deny him those benefits. Caron doesn’t live in church-provided housing, Guthro said.
Caron said he met with Bishop Robert Deeley on Monday and was told of the decision, but he wasn’t able to offer any challenge to the decision. He said he wasn’t sure of the details of the allegation that led to the decision to take away his “priestly duties.”
“I’ve had so much trouble with the church,” he said. “People would complain and it’s always my fault, according to them.”
Caron was born in Lewiston and ordained in 1969. He was assigned to various parishes throughout Maine, including Notre Dame Parish in Waterville; St. Margaret Parish in Old Orchard Beach; St. Mary Parish in Lewiston; St. Mary Parish in Presque Isle; St. Michael Parish in South Berwick; Cathedral Parish in Portland; St. Ignatius Parish in Sanford; Our Lady of Ransom Parish, Mechanic Falls; St. Gregory Parish, Gray; St. Mary Parish, Eagle Lake; and St. James Parish, Woodland.
Deeley has encouraged anyone who may have information about Caron or any case of sexual abuse of a minor by a church representative to contact civil authorities as well as Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Diocese of Portland, at 321-7836 or at email@example.com.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: