Bangor Daily News [Bangor ME]
December 8, 2022
By Judy Harrison
If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.
Three men who claim they were sexually abused by priests as children decades ago sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland on Thursday in Cumberland County Superior Court.
And in a separate lawsuit earlier this week, a Portland, Oregon, woman sued the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Eastern Province in U.S. District Court in Bangor. The woman, now in her 70s, claims she was sexually abused by priests in the 1950s at a seminary the order ran in Bar Harbor and a retreat house in Bucksport.
The lawsuits are the latest legal claims made possible by a 2021 change in state law that lifted a statute of limitations on such claims. Previously, state law effectively prevented people who were abused as children before the late 1980s from suing their abusers and the organizations for which they worked.
The new court filings bring the number of pending lawsuits over decades-old clergy sexual abuse to eight in Maine. The number of cases is expected to almost double by the end of the year, according to Portland attorney Michael Bigos, who specializes in clergy abuse cases and filed the most recents complaints against the Catholic diocese.
“I estimate from all firms, approximately 15 should be in the courts by the end of the year and 30 in the courts by St. Patrick’s Day,” Bigos said Wednesday. “After that, the number will most likely continue to grow.”
The lawyer said that the number of lawsuits against the diocese most likely would climb to 100 by June, the second anniversary of Gov. Janet Mills’ signing of the legislation that allowed them to go forward.
Bigos declined to say whether he is concerned about the diocese filing for bankruptcy to shield its assets from possible settlements. As of May, more than 30 Catholic religious organizations in other states had filed for bankruptcy, according to the University of Pennsylvania State Law School.
Two of the plaintiffs Bigos represents are brothers who served as altar boys in 1978 and 1979 at the former St. Hyacinth Church in Westbrook, where the Rev. Michael L. Plourde abused them. The diocese removed Plourde from ministry in 1994 based on multiple allegations of sex abuse.
The third man claims the Rev. J. Raymond Lauzon sexually abused him in 1970 at the former St. Joseph the Provider thrift store in Portland. For 15 years, Lauzon conducted a ministry in the thrift shop in Portland’s waterfront district. He also was assigned to a number of other parishes throughout Maine, and in 1990, he joined a Franciscan monastery in Kennebunk.
During the 1990s, several civil suits were brought against Lauzon alleging he abused children in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time, church leaders, hoping to protect the church from scandal, defended him fiercely and Lauzon denied the allegations. The diocese later acknowledged that at least 18 complaints of sexual abuse made against Lauzon were credible.
A Portland, Oregon, woman has sued the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Eastern Province in U.S. District Court in Bangor, alleging that she was sexually abused by priests in the 1950s at a seminary the order ran in Bar Harbor and a retreat house in Bucksport. This image of one of the priests, including the Rev. Arthur Craig, is included in her lawsuit against the order. Credit: Court documents
In one case, Lauzon pleaded guilty to witness tampering and agreed to serve a jail term, but the sex charges were dropped. The diocese settled other cases in 1997 for undisclosed amounts. He died in 2005 in Lithuania.
The Portland, Oregon, woman claims that she was placed in a Massachusetts orphanage connected to the Oblates order, based in Canada. Between the ages of 4 and 8 she was brought to the Bar Harbor seminary and Bucksport retreat house, where she was sexually abused by priests. The Oblates have been linked in Canada to the abuse and deaths of First Nations children in the past century at residential schools in that country.
The Oblates seminary in Bar Harbor is now part of the College of the Atlantic campus. The building in Bucksport, known as Wilson Hall, is being renovated for apartments.
The Bangor Daily News does not identify the victims of sexual abuse unless they agree to be named.
Neither the diocese nor the Oblates order immediately responded to requests for comment Thursday.