Pastor at Freeport Church to Encourage Members to Report Any Sexual Abuse by Clergy
By Eric Russell and Megan Doyle
Portland Press Herald
December 1, 2017
|While teaching at Cheverus High School in Portland, James F. Talbot served as a priest at times at St. Jude Church in Freeport, above. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup|
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said Thursday that it plans to encourage members to come forward with any information about suspected sexual abuse by a church official, in light of new criminal allegations against a former Jesuit priest.
James Francis Talbot was indicted this week on charges of gross sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact involving a 9-year-old boy at St. Jude Church in Freeport in 1998. Talbot was a longtime teacher at Cheverus High School in Portland when he also served at times as a priest in Freeport.
|Pictured at a 2002 arraignment in Boston, James F. Talbot, now 80, was extradited from Missouri to Maine on Wednesday to face sexual abuse charges in a 1997-98 Freeport case. Associated Press/Michael Dwyer|
Two people involved in the case confirmed for the Portland Press Herald that Talbot, now 80, settled a lawsuit in June with the same alleged victim. The lawsuit describes how the alleged victim went through severe depression, loss of faith and thoughts of suicide as an adult. It also argues that church leaders and Cheverus officials should have prevented Talbot from ever having access to the boy.
Dave Guthro, spokesman for the diocese, said in an email that the Rev. Daniel Greenleaf, the parish pastor, “will be talking to the parishioners at St. Jude in Freeport to address the situation.” Guthro said Greenleaf would provide them with information about how to come forward with information about sexual abuse by clergy members, but he did not know whether the message would mention Talbot.
Greenleaf is the pastor of the Parish of the Holy Eucharist, which includes St. Jude and churches in Falmouth, Yarmouth and Gray. He did not respond to a voice mail and an email seeking comment.
CIVIL CASE OUTLINES ALLEGATIONS
Members of St. Jude’s pastoral council, a group that includes parishioners and advises the priest, declined to talk about the case involving Talbot.
One member of the council directed questions to the diocese. Another said the council had been previously advised not to speak about this issue.
Kathy Coster, a current member and former chair of the pastoral council, said she only knows what she has read in news reports about the case.
“I’m sorry, I certainly would love to do anything to try to alleviate some of the pain that has happened here, but I have nothing I can say officially,” Coster said.
Talbot is scheduled to appear Friday in Cumberland County Unified Court on the charges, which stem from a series of alleged incidents at St. Jude. He was extradited from Missouri, where he has been living for the past several years, and is being held at the Cumberland County Jail on $50,000 cash bail.
The Press Herald does not identify victims of sexual abuse without their consent. A lawyer for the victim declined to discuss the case and said the victim did not wish to speak to the media. Details of the financial settlement in the lawsuit have not been disclosed.
Although few details have been released about the criminal case involving Talbot, the civil case – first filed in February 2016 – includes detailed accounts of the allegations.
An affidavit from Talbot’s accuser indicates that the former priest, while a teacher at the Jesuit-run Cheverus High School, befriended him and his family while they were parishioners of St. Jude Church. Talbot was a substitute priest for that parish and often spent weekends at its churches, including in Freeport.
The victim talked about feeling powerless in Talbot’s presence.
“Not only did I see (Father) Talbot as an adult, but he was a priest in complete control of me and whether I could proceed with my first communion and confirmation. I believed at the time I had to do whatever he ask (sic) me to do,” the affidavit read.
The victim said in the spring of 1998, he would get dropped off at the church by his parents for religious instruction.
“Then (Father) Talbot would come down and remove me from the class of other children and take me upstairs to a room where he sexually abused me. He told me not to tell anyone what had happened and that it was okay,” the affidavit says.
The victim indicated that the abuse contributed to severe depression, loss of faith and thoughts of suicide as an adult.
LONG HISTORY OF ABUSING BOYS
It was not known publicly at the time, but Talbot already had a lengthy history of abusing boys dating to the 1970s, when he was a teacher and coach at Boston College High School. He came to Cheverus in 1980 and remained there until June 1998, when he was terminated.
Although Talbot left Cheverus only a few months after the abuse alleged in the recent civil case, his departure actually was triggered by separate allegations of assault by a former Cheverus student in the mid-1980s. Michael Doherty, who has spoken publicly about his abuse by Talbot, said the priest had befriended his family and gained their trust before taking advantage of him.
Doherty sued Talbot in July 1998. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 2001.
Talbot was investigated more than a decade ago as part of the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Catholic Church abuse scandal. After alleged victims came forward, settlements were reached with 14 of them, totaling $5.2 million. It has never been made clear where that money came from.
Two years after those cases were settled, Talbot was convicted in Massachusetts of sexual abuse. He spent six years in prison.
DIDI OFFICIALS OVERLOOK CONDUCT?
After his release in 2011, he was laicized by the Vatican, which means he is no longer a priest. He has, however, remained a Jesuit and has been living at the Vianney Renewal Center – a church-owned facility in Dittmer, Missouri, that provides housing and counseling to priests and former priests, including many who have been suspected or convicted of sexual abuse.
One of the points made in the most recent civil case, which was settled in June, was that the various institutions that had responsibility over Talbot – Cheverus, the Portland diocese and the USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits – knew or should have known about Talbot’s conduct before the alleged assault in 1998.
Mark Randall, the victim’s attorney, used the Doherty case as proof that people knew enough about Talbot to keep a closer eye on him. For instance, Talbot was hired at Cheverus in 1980 by the Rev. Steven Dawber, who had worked with him at Boston College High School. Dawber knew that word was getting out that Talbot might be facing heat about his conduct, which included wrestling boys while they were wearing only jockstraps. In a document filed with the lawsuit about Talbot’s hiring by Cheverus, Dawber said there was “no outward talk about internal situation here so looks like a smooth transition.”
OTHER CHURCHES, MORE TRANSGRESSIONS
During his time at Cheverus, Talbot also started working at what was then the Sacred Heart Parish, which included churches in Yarmouth and Freeport. Early on, he was caught stealing money from the collection basket at one of the churches. He was arrested on suspicion of drunken-driving early in his tenure in Maine and also was seen publicly intoxicated at a local restaurant. Marc Caron, a former priest with the diocese, said in a deposition for the lawsuit last year that Talbot was treated for alcoholism at one point.
John Keegan, the former president of Cheverus who also was deposed, acknowledged that he was aware of some of Talbot’s behavior, although he has denied knowing about sexual abuse before public claims were made.
The lawsuit says the most egregious example of a church official knowing about Talbot’s behavior with children involved Roger Chabot, the former parish priest who oversaw the Yarmouth and Freeport church in the 1980s. Doherty, in a sworn affidavit, said Chabot saw him and Talbot together at the Yarmouth church’s rectory, where Talbot often stayed. On one occasion, Doherty said, he and Talbot came back to the rectory together. They had come from the racetrack at the Cumberland Fair and both had been drinking. Doherty said when Chabot saw them, Talbot quickly ushered him upstairs and then remained behind to talk to Chabot.
DIOCESE ABUSE POLICIES AND RESPONSES
Other diocesan officials have testified that they never heard allegations about Talbot until 1998.
Guthro, the diocese spokesman, said Bishop Robert Deeley takes all allegations very seriously and the church continuously encourages members to report any information about abuse.
“He hopes any victim/survivor will feel free to come forward and speak about their painful experiences, particularly if they have not already done so,” Guthro said. “The diocese will diligently work to receive them in a manner that protects their dignity. We want, if at all possible, to assist anyone who has been harmed to be in a healing process.”
Guthro said the diocese also notifies parishioners whenever it learns of a substantiated claim of sexual abuse by a clergy member.
However, no such notice was given after the alleged Freeport victim initially came forward with a lawsuit in February 2016 because “that was an allegation at the time, not substantiated,” Guthro said. He also said the diocese could not address the allegations publicly during an ongoing investigation.
Anyone who may have information about any case of sexual abuse of a minor by a church representative is asked to contact civil authorities as well as Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Diocese of Portland, at 207-321-7836 or email@example.com. People can also contact Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine at 800-871-7741.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: