Diocese pays $200,000 to settle '76 case
A lawyer for the victim says James Vallely abused her while she was an altar server in South Berwick
By David Hench
Portland Press Herald
December 2, 2009
A woman who says she was abused by a Catholic priest in South Berwick when she was 11 has reached a $200,000 settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, according to her attorney.
The woman, who now lives out of state, said she was abused by the Rev. James Vallely in 1976, when she was one of Maine's first female altar servers.
Vallely served in parishes in Portland, Bangor and other Maine communities, including St. Michael's in South Berwick. He retired from full-time ministry in 1988, and was removed from filling in for parishes in Florida in 1993 because of credible allegations of abuse. He died in 1997 at the age of 75.
Vallely was on a 2005 list of nine deceased priests who the diocese said would have been removed from ministry if they were still alive because of substantiated allegations of abuse.
"The church was negligent in supervising Father Vallely because they either knew or should have known he was a sexual predator," said Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston attorney who represented the woman. He would not name his client, who asked that her identity not be released.
Garabedian has documented many cases of sexual abuse by priests, including the Rev. John Geoghan, whose conviction for molesting a boy in Massachusetts helped publicize the extent of abuse that had occurred and been covered up.
In the Maine case, the victim was an altar server at St. Michael's when she was molested once in the rectory by Vallely, Garabedian said.
"Money is only a symbol," he said. "It will not allow my client to regain her stolen childhood. I do not believe the church would have paid my client $200,000 in settlement if the church did not feel it was legally responsible."
The woman did not sue but did indicate that she was willing to sue, and would have presented a strong case against the priest and his supervisors, Garabedian said.
The two sides met for mediation in Portland on Nov. 5 and reached the settlement.
"I'm sure we would not have come to a substantial settlement if we didn't believe what the victim had to say," said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese. The settlement was paid by insurance, she said.
She noted that the long delay in reporting the abuse to the church could have made it difficult for the woman to succeed in a trial. Bernard said the church was not notified until the summer of 2008.
"The bishop is always encouraging anyone who is a victim to come forward and make a complaint to the church and to civil authorities," she said. "It's our hope that whether it be through a settlement or offering counseling, that this is going to help provide healing."
She would not discuss specifics of the incident or the settlement, and said it is up to the woman to divulge those particulars if she chooses.
After he was ordained in 1949, Vallely started his career in Portland, Ore., then worked in the Maine communities of Sheridan, Waterville, Bangor, Portland, South Portland, Limestone, Machias and South Berwick, starting in 1974.
Valley was accused of sexually abusing five boys, four in the Portland area, between 1953 and 1962, according to diocese records released to authorities. In 1978, he was sent for treatment after an allegation of misconduct unrelated to the case settled last month, Bernard said.
There were no allegations of misconduct occurring after 1978, she said.
Vallely did not face criminal charges when the allegations came to light in 1993 because the statute of limitations had expired. The Legislature passed laws in the 1990s to remove the statute of limitations for sexually abusing a minor, but the changes did not affect Vallely's case.
In the South Berwick case, the woman told her mother about the assault at the time, Garabedian said. Her mother was incredulous and no action was taken.
The woman left Maine when she was 18.
The issue was not brought up again until 1994, when the woman visited the house she grew up in and the memories of the abuse came back to her, he said.
The woman contacted Garabedian in the past few years, he said. The incident caused the woman to have emotional problems, including shame and difficulty trusting authority figures, he said.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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