New Allegations Stun Parishioners
A Former Boothbay Harbor Pastor Has Been Accused of Sexual Misconduct
By Dennis Hoey
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
September 16, 2003
At Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in Boothbay Harbor, parishioners were still trying to recover Monday from the shock of hearing that a former church priest stands accused of sexual misconduct with young boys 20 years ago.
The Rev. Thomas Lee, pastor of the St. Philip parish in Lyman, has stepped down while the Diocese of Portland investigates three separate allegations made by parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Peace.
"We were totally blindsided. People are still trying to assimilate what happened and what it means to them personally," said John O'Connell, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Peace. "This has been very difficult for everyone, but we are making a conscious effort to keep our parish community together."
The announcement that Lee would step down was made public Saturday. Lee, who has denied the charges, is restricted from having contact with minors and will have no ministry during the investigation.
Sue Bernard, a diocese spokeswoman, said former Portland police officer John Brennan is investigating one report of sexual abuse of a minor and two other allegations of sexual misconduct. Bernard did not offer further details, but confirmed that the alleged incidents took place 20 years ago. Lee served as pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace between May 1971 and December 1985.
Last weekend, in a statement to parishioners at St. Philip's, Bishop Joseph Gerry announced that he had asked Lee to relinquish his ministry pending the outcome of the investigation. Lee had voluntarily stepped down last year while the diocese conducted an investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse from a parishioner at the Boothbay Harbor church.
Bernard said that complaint could not be substantiated and the investigation ended. But last month, during Our Lady Queen of Peace's 75th anniversary celebration, the mother of the alleged victim publicly confronted Gerry and Lee, who had accompanied the bishop to the event.
Attempts to reach Lee and parishioners at St. Philip were unsuccessful. Bernard said fill-in priests will be used at the Lyman church until the investigation is completed.
Bernard said the diocese plans to send its Support and Assistance Ministry team to Boothbay Harbor this weekend. The team, which visited the church on Sept. 6, offers crisis counseling. Bernard said it was during the Sept. 6 visit that additional allegations against Lee surfaced.
Peter McNelis of Boothbay Harbor has attended Our Lady Queen of Peace on and off since 1991. Although McNelis didn't know Lee, he said that for some of the longtime parishioners, the allegations against Lee were stunning.
"Some of the older people, who knew Father Lee, were really shocked," McNelis said. "They saw him very clearly as a caring, compassionate priest. News of this really floored them."
"We will deal with it, but how we deal with it is a measure of how we will be judged when the time comes," said O'Connell, who was elected Parish Council president last summer. "With some help, we will get through this."
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