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  Victims Say Diocese's Disclosure Falls Short
By Not Revealing Child Abuse Cases by Men Who Have Left the Priesthood, the Community Is Unprotected, Some Say

By John Richardson and Gregory Kesich
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
February 12, 2002

Portland — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland's decision to disclose past cases of child sexual abuse by active priests - but not those by men who have left the priesthood - does not go far enough, victims of abuse said Monday.

"They are not revealing more names because they say that they are not a threat to children now, but what about children who are grown up? This is not a good thing," said Larry Gray of Scarborough, who said he was sexually abused by a Portland priest in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

"It's not about the healing process. That's my biggest beef with these guys. It's about damage control," said David Gagnon, who said he was sexually abused by a Maine priest for several years as a teen-ager in the 1970s and '80s. "We settled out of court and they insisted that I never speak to anyone about this."

Despite the complaints, church officials said they do not intend to research records to identify victims or reveal further information about former priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

On Sunday, the Portland Diocese announced a new policy of telling parishioners if their priest has ever sexually abused a child. And it identified two Aroostook County priests, the Rev. Michael Doucette of St. Agatha and the Rev. John Audibert of Madawaska, as the only active priests in Maine who have abused children.

Doucette abused a boy for a period of years while serving at St. Andre's Parish in Biddeford 22 years ago, the diocese said. Audibert, it said, abused a boy while serving a parish in Caribou 26 years ago.

The announcements by the Portland Diocese follow revelations that the Boston Archdiocese has reassigned pedophile priests without the knowledge of their parishioners. A defrocked priest, John Geoghan, was convicted last month of indecent assault and battery on a 10-year-old boy.

The church in Boston has been under intense pressure and was ordered by a court to release information about past cases of child sexual abuse by priests.

In Portland, Monsignor Marc Caron, assistant to Bishop Joseph Gerry, said the new policy of increased disclosure is an effort to restore faith in active priests.

"The policy's really about the priests who are in service. Those are the people on the front lines," said Caron. "We felt that we had to act in order to establish the reliability of the priests serving in the state."

Active priests are able to use their position and the moral authority of the church as a tool to victimize children, Caron said. Once out of the priesthood, they lose that power, he said.

Although former priests also could work with children, Caron said it would be up to other institutions to protect children in their care.

"We really feel that one of the main reasons any problem like this could exist and have it be so horrible is because there is a level of trust that happens immediately when a person has a collar on," said Sue Bernard, director of communications for the diocese.

Numerous cases of sexual abuse by Maine priests have been revealed over the years. After a number of cases generated attention in 1993, the diocese began reporting some, but not all, complaints to police investigators. Since 1997, when a state law first required the reporting of sexual abuse, the diocese has reported all new cases to authorities, officials said.

Victims of abuse by priests say the withholding of information about old cases and former priests deprives the broader community of protection and deprives victims of acknowledgment and support. They say the church only adopted the new policy on Sunday because of growing pressure from victims and others to reveal more information about priests who took advantage of children.

Doucette and Audibert told their parishioners Sunday morning that they had sexually abused children.

Doucette abused a teen-age boy for a period of years while he was a priest at St. Andre's in Biddeford. The abuse had never been publicly disclosed by the church or Doucette. Doucette referred all calls from the media to the diocese, and officials would not discuss the victim or details of the settlement.

The allegations against Audibert were already known to many in and out of his parish.

In 1993, Peter Keaton said publicly that he and the priest had engaged periodically in sexual activities when Keaton was a teen-ager and a member of Audibert's parish in Caribou. Audibert resigned his position as a parish priest before attending a residential treatment program and getting reassigned to a parish in Madawaska.

At the time he presented the charges, Keaton was the coordinator of the Survivors Alliance for Empowerment, a group for male victims of sexual abuse. Today, Keaton is in prison, serving a sentence for a sex crime, according to the Maine Department of Corrections. It is not uncommon for victims of childhood sexual abuse to become offenders.

Diocese officials said Doucette and Audibert were reassigned only after getting help and undergoing psychological evaluations that found neither to be a threat to other children.

Neither man can be charged with a crime in Maine because of the statute of limitations, which prevents the state from prosecuting crimes past a certain date.

Charges of child sexual abuse used to carry a 20-year statute of limitations. But as a growing number of adults claimed they had been abused as children, lawmakers were convinced that it took more time for them to come to terms with their trauma than victims of other crimes. In 1991, the Legislature removed the statute of limitations for all crimes of sexual abuse in the future, but conduct before 1991 is still subject to the 20-year limit.

Church officials said they hope parishioners around the state will come forward with reports of any abuse by priests and that authorities will be notified. They said the increased openness should help reassure worshippers that the two priests are the only active priests in Maine who have abused children.

Larry Gray said he does not believe the church is opening up yet, and he's sure there are more pedophile priests. "These were two sacrificial lambs," he said. Gray came forward in 1993 to claim that he was one of several boys who been sexually abused by the Rev. James Vallely, who had been his priest at St. Dominic's in Portland in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Vallely was retired and has since died, Gray said.

Now 53, Gray has been married for 30 years and raised four children, but said he will always carry the scars of his abuse.

 
 

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