Diocese Apologizes for Sexual Abuses
The Portland Diocese Makes a Broad Public Admission of Guilt As Part of a Settlement
By Sarah Ragland
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
April 15, 1998
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland this week is stepping forward with a public admission of guilt - and an apology - for the sexual abuse of minors by some priests in the diocese.
The church's unusually public stance was prompted by the terms of a settlement agreement made with Steven Simard, one of several men who said he was abused by a Portland priest when he was a boy.
Under the terms of the agreement, the diocese is running a series of advertisements acknowledging the sexual misconduct of some priests, calling it one of the "gravest moral failings of the church."
In their prepared statement, church officials also said, "To any individuals who have suffered from sexual abuse by clergy of the Diocese of Portland and elsewhere, the Bishop expresses his deep regret."
The diocese also is offering to provide free counseling to any victims of sexual misconduct by priests of the diocese; and, in order to express the church's repentance, Bishop Joseph Gerry will preside at a service of healing and reconciliation at 7 p.m. Monday at the Chapel of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.
Peter Marchesi, a Waterville attorney representing Simard, said the public apology, including the advertising and the offer to provide free counseling to victims, were of paramount importance to his client.
"My client has a wife and four children. He had every incentive to make money the object of this and he didn't," Marchesi said. "He said, 'We want you to apologize, to admit what you did and to pay for counseling.' "
Neither Marchesi nor church officials would discuss Simard's monetary settlement with the church, if any.
Marchesi, however, said he was disappointed that church officials backed off an initial commitment to hold a press conference.
The church instead distributed a three-page press release that tucks the apology for past sexual misconduct on the second page in the midst of a discussion of Pope John Paul II's call for repentance on the eve of the third millennium.
"They had an opportunity to acknowledge their deeds in an open and forthright manner," Marchesi said. "They are hiding behind grandiose, self-serving language."
Marc Mutty, a spokesman for the diocese, said the diocese is meeting the letter and the spirit of the agreement; and, going beyond it by holding the public service next week.
"We are cloaking it in a far broader context to make it more meaningful," Mutty said.
The church's action comes more than 10 years after allegations first surfaced against the Rev. Raymond J. Lauzon, the priest accused of sexually molesting several Portland boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
Although charged with gross sexual misconduct in 1984, the charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence. Lauzon, however, was sentenced to a year in jail for tampering with a witness.
In the early 1990s, as some of the priest's alleged victims started reaching adulthood, civil lawsuits were filed against Lauzon.
Anthony, Joseph, Robert and Charles Matthews sued in 1995, saying that Lauzon - who ran a church thrift shop - took them in as pre-teens, gained their trust, then abused them repeatedly over the years.
Another Matthews brother, Dana, who was shot to death after a dispute in Portland last year, also filed a lawsuit against Lauzon and the church.
In the civil lawsuit, the Matthews brothers alleged that Lauzon introduced them to pedophiles who also sexually abused them.
The lawsuit claims Lauzon took care of the boys, buying them clothes, food and gifts, including motorcycles. Each helped out at the St. Joseph the Provider thrift shop on Exchange Street.
The lawsuit alleges the assaults began for each boy between the ages of 9 and 11 and continued into each child's teen-age years.
Incidents occurred at the thrift store, in the rectory of St. Dominic's Church and in vehicles, according to the lawsuit.
Lauzon founded St. Joseph the Provider in the 1960s. The store, which provided clothes and furnishings to the needy, moved from a Stevens Avenue church to the Old Port in 1970. The thrift store closed in the mid-1980s during the criminal investigation of Lauzon, who at the time was a well-known and outspoken advocate for the poor in Portland.
Lauzon, 72, now spends much of his time teaching religion in Lithuania as a member of a Franciscan monastery in Kennebunk. In the past, he has steadfastly denied the allegations of molestations; a denial strongly seconded by church lawyers.
Church officials said Tuesday they will not discuss specific cases, priests or victims.
The Matthews' lawsuits have since been dismissed by mutual agreement. Although family members have said small financial settlements were reached with the church, neither the church nor Kenneth Clegg, the Matthews' attorney, will discuss their agreement.
Clegg also represented David Simard, Stephen Simard's brother, who filed a similar lawsuit against Lauzon and the church last year.
Clegg said Tuesday he was pleased that Marchesi was able to win a public admission of guilt from the diocese.
"It's good the church is doing it," Clegg said. "The way they treated the case when they first learned about it in the mid-1980s and when we brought (the civil case forward), it was nothing like we thought a church would act; they fought everything in every way they could."
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