Older civil complaints filed against Portland Catholic Church for childhood sexual abuse

The Portland Press Herald [Portland ME]

June 16, 2022

By Emily Allen

In July 2021, the state removed a 34-year statute of limitations for civil claims of childhood sexual abuse.

Three people who say they were abused in the Catholic church as children sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland Thursday in what appear to be the first civil lawsuits detailing sexual abuse to be filed since the state removed a time limit  for these claims last summer.

Maine first agreed to remove its statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases in 2000. However, anyone who had already reached the 34-year time limit to file a complaint before then was still deemed ineligible. Changes to state law in July made it possible for dozens of Mainers with previously expired claims to seek legal action from their alleged perpetrators.

Robert Dupuis, who shared his story in 2007, said he was abused on multiple occasions by priest John Curran in 1961, when Dupuis was a 12-year-old working part time around St. Joseph Church in Old Town in Penobscot County. Curran was reassigned to a church in Augusta in 1962. Today, St Joseph Church is now known as the Holy Family Catholic Church.

Although Dupuis successfully petitioned the city of Augusta to remove the late priest’s name from a local bridge in 15 years ago, he was unable to seek legal action until now.

The other two people suing the Bishop have asked not to be named.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which oversees the Catholic church in Maine, was one of the biggest opponents of the change in state law last year, arguing that the statute of limitations at the time already provided ample time to take legal action and thatthe legal process would be burdened by older claims.Advertisementhttps://f96a13e52dd0c514b1c2ca99be5b3807.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“Defendants and courts must be protected from having to deal with cases that are so aged that no response is possible, be it as a result of loss of evidence, death, the passage of time and natural erosion of memory or lack of documentation,” Bruce Gerrityan attorney for the diocese, wrote in his testimony to the Legislature last year.

In the complaints filed Thursday, attorneys Michael Bigos and Joseph Gausse paint a picture of a diocese where there were several bad actors whom church leaders had reason to be aware of and yet did not remove or punish, failing to protect young parishioners.

Several of the priests named in the complaints already have been publicly identified, either through previous legal action or because they were eventually removed by the diocese. They include Ronald Michaud, the priest at the center of a lawsuit in 2007 in which a Kennebec County judge awarded a former altar boy more than $4.4 million in damages.

John Shorty, named in one of the new complaints, was urged to leave the diocese in 2006, according to archived reports from the Bangor Daily News. John Harris, another priest named in a new complaint, was permanently removed from the priesthood in 2015.

Curran, who was a priest in various parishes for 45 years, retired voluntarily from St. Augustine Catholic Church in Augusta in 1972 and died in 1976.

All three complaints refer to known abuse by Maine priests and other church leaders dating back to the mid-20th century, mentioning the Rev. James P. Vallely, who was accused of abuse in 1955, and Monsignor Henry Bolz, who was accused of abuse in 1963. Both men were allowed to continue work in their respective parishes for decades, despite allegations against them.

Internationally, the Catholic Church has had policies denouncing sexual abuse of minors and detailing the secretive process for investigating and judging these incidents since 1922, according to the complaints. The existence of such policies, the complaints state, indicate that the diocese was aware of the abuse and failed to protect the thousands of parishioners it served.

This story will be updated.