Latest lawsuit against Portland diocese names former Frenchville priest

The Portland Press Herald [Portland ME]

February 16, 2023

By Emily Allen

An Aroostook County man has filed the latest civil complaint against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. The lawsuit comes on the heels of a judge’s order this week upholding a law that allows Mainers to sue for past childhood sexual abuse, regardless of when it occurred.

The man, who is now in his 40s and filed the lawsuit under the name “John SB Doe,” says he was sexually abused by the Rev. Angelo LeVasseur on a summer trip with the priest to Quebec in the early 1990s.

His attorneys, Jessica Arbour and Michael Bigos, believe this is the first time LeVasseur has been publicly accused of sexually abusing a child.

LeVasseur died in 2009 at the age of 56.

More than a dozen other people in Maine have filed complaints against the diocese, thanks to a 2021 law that made it possible for anyone with a previously expired claim to sue an individual or entity for childhood sexual abuse. Those complaints are currently on hold in the courts as the church weighs whether to raise its challenge to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

But the newest complaint against LaVasseur would have been allowed prior to the 2021 law change because of a previous change to the statute of limitations in 2000.

Bigos previously has said that there are more than a hundred others who haven’t filed complaints but have connected with an attorney following the new law.

On Tuesday, Superior Justice Thomas McKeon denied a motion from the diocese to dismiss the cases. The motion argues that the new law violates the Maine Constitution by opening up the church to retroactive claims amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in potential damages.

McKeon’s order gave the diocese three weeks to appeal his ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. No appeal had been filed as of Thursday afternoon, but Gerald Petruccelli, the attorney for the diocese, said in arguments before McKeon last month that the church intended to take the case to the state’s highest court, if necessary.

All of the complaints, including the latest against LeVasseur, allege that the diocese was aware of the abuse, failed to notify parishioners of any danger and shuffled clergy from parish to parish to conceal wrongdoing.

The man who filed the latest complaint said in a written statement Thursday that he wanted to hold the church accountable.

“It has affected every aspect of my life, and the lives of my family members,” he said. “I never wanted to have to take this step, but when the diocese failed to treat me with the compassion that I needed when I first came forward, I was left with no choice. I can only hope that anyone else who may have been hurt by this man will feel safe coming forward now.”

According to the complaint, the Aroostook County man grew up in a family of “devout Catholics who were very active in the St. Luce Community and Christian Life Centre,” both of which were located in Frenchville, in Aroostook County.

The man’s family grew close to LeVasseur during his time there as a priest, and their relationship with him was “a source of pride” for the family.

When the man was a teenager in July of either 1991 or 1992, LeVasseur got his parent’s permission to bring him to a special mass for the Feast of St. Anne in Quebec.

LeVasseur arranged for them to share a hotel room, where he “plied the young plaintiff with alcohol” and abused him, the complaint states. The man, then a minor, “was in shock and confused by the contact given LeVasseur’s position as a Roman Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Portland.”

The complaint says LeVasseur threatened the teen to keep him quiet.

LeVasseur was stationed at several parishes throughout the state, as well as at Bates and Bowdoin colleges, dating to his first assignment at St. Andre in Biddeford in 1983.

In 2000, news reports said LeVasseur was reassigned to Our Lady of the Rosary in Sabattus after another priest, John Harris, was removed from the parish for creating a website with sexually explicit images. Harris has been named in other complaints that allege abuse at a Diocese-run summer camp, Camp Pesquasawasis.

A spokesperson for the diocese said the church will not comment on pending or possible litigation “and will proceed in accordance with the court’s rules in due course.”