Lawsuits mounting against the Catholic Diocese of Portland

WCSH - NBC News Center Maine [Portland ME]

December 9, 2022

By Vivien Leigh

Three lawsuits filed this week allege the Diocese failed to keep children safe from clergy members who were known abusers.

Cases are mounting against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which oversaw priests who are accused of sexually abusing children decades ago.

Lawsuits filed by a former parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Portland, and two brothers who served as altar boys at St. Hyacinth Church in Westbrook, allege the Diocese failed to keep children safe from clergy members who were known abusers. NEWS CENTER Maine is not naming the alleged victims. 

The brothers accuse a priest, Michael Plourde, of sexually abusing them in 1978. Their mother reported the alleged incidents to Plourde’s supervisor, Rev. Antonio Gosselin, but family members never heard back from him about the reported abuse. Michael Bigos of Berman & Simmons represents the alleged victims.

“Two years before, the abuse was reported at St. Hyacinth. That report failed to make it to parishioners which would prevent the brothers’ abuse,” Bigos said. 

Plourde was permanently removed in 1994. According to the lawsuit, the father of the brothers, now 84, laments that if he had known the risk, he would have never allowed his sons to serve as altar boys.

“Our clients’ father feels tremendous guilt about what happened, but it’s not his fault, or his children’s fault, it’s the Diocese’s fault,” Bigos explained.

Another complaint comes from a former parishioner of St. Joseph’s Parish. He accuses a priest named Raymond Lauzon of assaulting him when he was 12 years old. Bigos represents eight clients who are seeking justice in a civil court under a new law that removed the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse.

“Because of the failure to share the information and communicate to parishioners, children were sexually abused,” Bigos said.

Maine’s charitable immunity statute provides organizations such as the Catholic Church with immunity from civil lawsuits by victims of child sexual abuse. 

Paul Kendrick is a longtime outspoken advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse. He says lawmakers may introduce a bill in the next session that could prevent the Diocese from shielding its assets.  

“I am hoping legislators will carve out the piece that would protect the church from the charitable immunity defense,” Kendrick said. 

Bigos says that meanwhile, as many as 30 lawsuits could be filed by March of next year. He hopes the complaints will pressure the Diocese to release key information on clergy members still serving or no longer practicing with the church. Bigos also encourages other victims to come forward. 

If you need help, you can call Maine’s sexual assault crisis and support line at 1-800-871-7741.