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  Sidney Man Says He Was Abused by Priest
Michael Fortin Filed a Lawsuit Last July against the Catholic Church, Charging That He Was Abused by an Augusta Priest

By Gregory D. Kesich
Local & State [Augusta]
April 23, 2002

A Sidney man moved out of the background Monday and added his name to the list of people who say they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests. Michael Fortin held a press conference in his lawyer's Augusta office to announce that he is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the church and the priest he says abused him beginning when he was 13 years old. Fortin originally tried to avoid publicity surrounding the case, but said he now wants no part in keeping secrets that make child abuse possible.

"I am speaking today because these secrets must end," he said. "I am bolstered by the public awareness of victims who have already spoken publicly. I want to add my voice to theirs, to speak for the many people who have been abused and are not able to speak."

In a lawsuit filed in July, Fortin charged that he was sexually abused by the priest, Raymond Melville, when he was an altar boy at St. Mary's parish in Augusta and a student at St. Mary's school between 1985 and 1992.

Fortin also alleges that church officials knew that Melville had a history of sexual abuse at the time and moved him around the diocese when he was accused of abuse.

Melville, who is no longer active, could not be reached for comment. Church officials have denied that they hid Melville's behavior.

Fortin said he hopes that his speaking publicly will help him heal, noting that he was encouraged by other victims who stepped forward and were treated sympathetically by the public.

But the decision to speak out was not an easy one.

Fortin read from a prepared statement and seldom veered from it, even when answering follow-up questions from a group of reporters assembled by his lawyer, Summer Lipman. Revealing few details, Fortin told about his abuse and how it has affected his life.

Fortin said Melville molested him after becoming close with his parents. "He became like an adopted son, sharing in Christmas celebrations and other family events while he discreetly abused me," Fortin said.

In the years since it ended, feelings of shame and confusion have disturbed his faith in God and his relationship with his family.

Fortin made his charges to the church last year, and was surprised to find that he was met with a legal defense instead of an apology. He sued in Superior Court, and has said he will not agree to be silent in exchange for a cash settlement.

In January, the church moved to have itself dismissed as a defendant in the case on two grounds: that the actions happened too long ago to be prosecuted and that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the supervision of priests is a religious matter and cannot be scrutinized by the courts without violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

Melville left the active ministry in 1997, for reasons that church officials would not disclose, except to say it was not related to charges of sexual abuse. He has no duties in the diocese, said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for Bishop Joseph Gerry.

 
 

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