The Portland Press Herald [Portland ME]
November 9, 2023
By Emily Allen
BANGOR — The Penobscot Judicial Center was packed Thursday morning as dozens of people came to listen to arguments over a 2021 Maine law that repealed the statute of limitations for civil claims of childhood sexual abuse.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court agreed to consider whether that law is constitutional after the state’s Catholic church objected to more than a dozen lawsuits involving decades-old claims of abuse.
A few of those suing the church were in the room Thursday. Many declined to speak after the hearing ended.
“I don’t think I’ve seen this many people in the courtroom before, for Law Court arguments,” said Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill.
At least 30 people have filed complaints against the diocese, alleging they were sexually abused as children by church employees – mostly priests – as far as the 1950s and as recently as the mid-1980s. They say church leaders knew about the abuse and not only failed to respond but went to great lengths to conceal it – priests were often reassigned to different parishes following reports that they were abusing young parishioners, the complaints state, none of which was disclosed to parishioners.
A Maine Superior Court Justice ruled the cases should proceed in February, despite the church’s objections that the new law unfairly opens the diocese and other defendants to new liabilities. Some of the claims didn’t legally exist before the claims expired, the church’s attorney, Gerald Petruccelli, has argued, including a “fraudulent concealment” claim against the church which argues that leaders not only oversaw clergy who abused children but that they covered it up.
Victims suing the diocese have argued the law is fair. Their attorney Michael Bigos argued Thursday that the legislature enacted the change through the “will of the people,” who were tired of the diocese “getting away with enabling child sex abuse and cover-ups.”
Assistant Attorney General Jason Anton also argued in front of the court Thursday, supporting the law.
HOW TO GET HELP
IF YOU or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can call 1-800-871-7741 for free and confidential help 24 hours a day.
TO LEARN more about sexual violence prevention and response in Maine, visit the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault website.
IF YOU or someone who you is struggling with a mental health crisis, you can also call the Maine Crisis Line 24 hours a day at 1-888-568-1112.
FOR MORE information about mental health services in Maine, visit the website for the state’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
This story will be updated.