Aroostook man sues Catholic diocese over alleged sexual abuse

Bangor Daily News [Bangor ME]

February 16, 2023

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.

A 45-year-old Aroostook County man is the latest Mainer to sue the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and its bishop for alleged sexual abuse by a priest decades ago.

The plaintiff, identified in the complaint as John SB Doe, claims that the Rev. Angelo LeVasseur, who died of cancer in 2009 at age 56, sexually abused him once in July 1991 or 1992 on a trip to Quebec City, where the priest had been invited to celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Anne at the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupre. Doe was 14 or 15 at the time the abuse allegedly occurred.

At the time, LeVasseur was assigned to St. Luce Catholic Church in Frenchville and ran the diocese’s Christian Life Center there.

This is believed to be the first time that LeVasseur has been publicly accused of sexually abusing a child, according to plaintiff’s attorney Michael Bigos of Lewiston. Doe first reported his abuse to the Diocese in approximately 2017, and its representative told him that his claim could not be filed due to the statute of limitations that was lifted in 2021.

LeVasseur allegedly threatened to stop spending time with Doe’s family if Doe told anyone about the abuse, so the boy did not come forward until 2017, when he reported the abuse to the diocese.

Like other plaintiffs, Doe is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the emotional distress he experienced because of the abuse and payment for counseling and treatment.

Bishop Robert Deeley and the spokesperson for the diocese have declined to comment on individual case filings.

The latest lawsuit was filed two days after Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon ruled the law that has allowed the lawsuits is constitutional.  The diocese had challenged the law lifting the statute of limitations by claiming it was unconstitutional, in part, because the rule was retroactive.

The diocese is expected to appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Once that appeal is filed, the cases will be stayed until the justices rule on the question of the law’s constitutionality.

Doe’s complaint was filed Thursday in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland. The cases are being consolidated and handled by the Business and Consumer Court. More lawsuits are expected to be filed over the next few months, Bigos said Thursday.

Maine removed its statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases in 2000, but that change wasn’t retroactive, so victims couldn’t sue for older crimes. Changes to state law in 2021 made it possible for people to seek legal action for older claims that previously had expired.

So far, about 15 lawsuits have been filed in Maine courts and in U.S. District Court against the diocese. Bigos said Thursday that about 100 people have contacted his firm about possible litigation over clergy sexual abuse allegedly suffered when they were children.

LeVasseur was born in Grand Isle and graduated from high school in Van Buren, according to a story about his death in the Bangor Daily News archives. He attended the University of Maine at Fort Kent and prepared for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland.

He was ordained by Bishop Edward C. O’Leary in 1983 at the age of 30.

In addition to serving the Frenchville parish, LeVasseur was assigned to churches in Biddeford, Brunswick, South Harpswell, Sabattus, Greene and in the Bethel area. He also served as a Catholic chaplain at Bates College in Lewiston and Bowdoin College in Brunswick before being assigned to Frenchville in 1991.

St. Luce and the Christian Life Center continue to operate under the auspices of the diocese.