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  'It's a Joke,' Accuser Says of Apology by Church
Others Are Angry That the Portland Diocese Admitted No Wrongdoing

By Jason Wolfe
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
April 16, 1998

Anthony Matthews said he was 9 when the Rev. Raymond J. Lauzon, a man he trusted like his father, started molesting him.

The repeated sexual abuse ended seven years later, he said. Matthews, 30, has devoted much of his life since to trying to get the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to take responsibility and make amends for the pain he endured.

But the church's unusual public apology this week for sexual abuses by priests - prompted by Lauzon's alleged abuse of another Portland boy in the early 1980s - only left Matthews more angry.

"I think it's a joke," Matthews said Wednesday. "They knew what Lauzon was doing years ago and they did nothing about it. Then they come out with this. It's not even a clear apology . . . It's disgusting."

The church's apology, contained in a dense three-page press release, grew out of a settlement agreement with Steven Simard, 26, one of several men who said he was abused by Lauzon.

Under the agreement, the church is running a series of advertisements acknowledging the sexual misconduct by some priests, offering free counseling to victims and holding a public service of "healing and reconciliation." Bishop Joseph Gerry, head of Maine's 230,000 Roman Catholics, will preside at the Monday service.

But for Matthews and others who say Lauzon stole their childhoods and their dignity, the church's public stance - following years of vehement denials and ruthless litigation - has come too late.

The church paid out more than $ 400,000 between 1995 and 1997 to settle a civil lawsuit from Matthews and his four brothers, according to Anthony Matthews. But the confidential settlements did not include admissions of wrongdoing or offers to provide counseling, he said.

"It makes me feel good that (the church) stepped up and apologized" in the Simard case, said Kenneth Clegg, a Sanford lawyer who represented the Matthews. "But was it soon enough? Absolutely not."

Also Wednesday, the public apology continued to face criticism from Simard's Waterville lawyer. Instead of a clear-cut admission of wrongdoing, Peter Marchesi said, the apology was "cloaked in self praise."

"I think that was somewhat disingenuous," he said.

Surprised by criticism

Marc Mutty, a spokesman for the diocese, said he is surprised by the criticism, saying the church has gone beyond the letter and the spirit of the agreement. Plus, he said, Marchesi agreed in private with all of the public steps the church is taking.

In the press release, the diocese called the sexual misconduct by some priests one of the "gravest moral failings of the church." The statement went on to say the bishop "expresses his deep regret" to all victims.

The apology is contained on the second page in the midst of a discussion of Pope John Paul II's call for repentance on the eve of the millennium.

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 denied the allegations of abuse. He could not be reached Wednesday.

Lauzon "is not allowed to do ministry without another adult present, and he's not allowed to do ministry with children," said Mutty.

The church's statement does not identify Lauzon by name. Mutty said the diocese saw no purpose in focusing attention on just one case. Lauzon is one of 12 Maine priests in the last 50 years to be accused of sexual misdeeds with children, he said.

But none has been convicted in a criminal court for sex crimes with children, Mutty pointed out.

Lauzon came closest.

In 1984, Lauzon and two other men were indicted in connection with an alleged pedophile ring in Portland. Lauzon was charged with gross sexual misconduct.

At the time, Lauzon was a well-known, pipe-smoking priest who ran St. Joseph the Provider, a church-run thrift shop on Exchange Street. He was an outspoken advocate for the poor.

Anthony Matthews, then 17, and one of his brothers were the alleged victims.

Sex charges dropped

Anthony Matthews said they were from a poor family, and Lauzon took care of them, buying them clothes, food and gifts. Steven Simard's family, including five boys, shared a duplex with his family, he said.

The sex charges were dropped after Matthews, who said he gave in to pressure from Lauzon, signed a statement recanting his allegations. Lauzon, however, was sentenced to a year in jail for tampering with a witness. Church officials stood behind him during the prosecution.

Matthews later would attempt suicide and suffer from an eating disorder that almost killed him. He said he spent six years in counseling trying to deal with the abuse by Lauzon. An ongoing anxiety disorder prevents him from working, he said.

Five years ago, Matthews said he approached church officials to ask them to remove Lauzon from the priesthood and help him with his problems. The diocese had transferred Lauzon to three Maine parishes after he served his criminal sentence, Clegg said.

Matthews said he was turned away.

In 1995, Matthews and his brothers sued. Clegg said attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement failed despite what he viewed as good evidence the church knew or should have known of Lauzon's alleged misdeeds.

But lawyers for the diocese took the position the sexual abuse did not occur. They attacked the credibility of the Matthews brothers, portraying them as mixed-up street kids who could not be believed.

Dozens of sworn statements were taken. Anthony Matthews was questioned for hours about painful and intimate aspects of his sex life. His mother and father were questioned by lawyers.

"The church and Lauzon fought us at every juncture," Clegg said. "There was never an acknowledgment on their part that anything that went on was inappropriate."

Clegg found one of Lauzon's co-defendants in the criminal case who again implicated the priest for having sex with boys, as he had years earlier, according to court records.

The suit dragged on for 2 1/2 years.

In April 1997, the Matthews brothers' lawsuit was hurt by a Maine Supreme Court ruling in an unrelated case that gave the bishop immunity from civil liability for allegedly negligent supervision of a priest.

The two sides settled before a Superior Court judge could act on the church's request to dismiss the Matthewses' suit, based on the Supreme Court ruling.

"That ruling was a problem for us," Clegg said.

Anthony Matthews said the lawsuit, for him, was never about money.

"I ended up with a whole whopping $ 33,000 for a lifetime of pain and heartache," he said. "Think of how much the church spent defending a guilty man."

Marchesi and Simard approached the diocese late last year. At the church's suggestion, the two sides went to mediation. The settlement agreement emerged from that session.

Neither side would discuss Simard's monetary settlement with the church, if any.

"Money and material things took a back seat to something we thought was far more important - putting the church in a position to acknowledge past misgivings, to apologize and to atone," Marchesi said.

 
 

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