Public Alerted to Suspended Priest
According to officials of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, the Rev. Ernest Justin Hill, 80, cannot hear confessions or celebrate Mass because he disobeyed orders from his superiors.
Hill was the subject of an allegation of sexual abuse reported to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in 1999. The conduct allegedly took place in Maine when Hill was a temporary priest in several churches between 1979 and 1981.
"It is with great sadness that we announce that Father Ernest Hill of our Congregation is not a priest of the Catholic Church in good standing," read an advertisement published in the Aroostook Republican on July 31. "He has been suspended from the active priest ministry."
Hill is under investigation for "inappropriate behavior with teen-agers," and authorities have been notified, said Rev. Austin Walsh, custodian general of the Missionary Servants. Hill was suspended because he disobeyed orders to undergo psychological evaluation, Walsh said.
"This is a question of obedience," Walsh said. "We are doing what we believe is necessary to protect the public."
Most Roman Catholic priests in Maine are members of the Diocese of Portland, under the direct supervision of Bishop Joseph Gerry. But about 45 priests are members of religious orders, such as the Jesuits or Franciscans, who each have their own national leadership. About one-third of the Catholic priests in this country are members of religious orders.
Hill, who was ordained a priest in 1951, has been suspended from the active ministry since 1994. But the Missionary Servants wanted to let people know about his status now because it has received reports that he was continuing to hold services.
"When you've got a guy out here who won't obey, you've got to let people know he's not under your flag," said Beau Brincefield, lawyer for the Missionary Servants.
Hill lives in a Madawaska apartment and, according to The Associated Press, acknowledged that allegations of sexual abuse have been made against him but said none was investigated. He said there were no specific allegations pending against him.
Hill said the Missionary Servants suspended him for not obeying an order to undergo a fifth psychological evaluation. "They want me to go to a clinic that is notorious for looking for things to make priests unfit for ministry," Hill told the AP.
He denied that he was conducting services. "They don't want me ministering, and I have not been," Hill said.
The Missionary Servants is a religious order with a mission of providing priests to areas that are under-served because they are remote or poor. The order has about 300 priests around the world who actively minister and encourage lay people to become more involved in worship, Brincefield said.
In January 1979, Hill asked for and was given permission to serve in Maine.
He served as an interim priest in Wallagrass and Stinginess, and served as a fill-in for vacationing priests. In 1980, he was given permission to celebrate only special Masses and other limited ministry.
In February 1981, Hill was denied permission to perform any service in Maine, said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Portland. The denial had nothing to do with any misconduct, Bernard said.
"There were issues with the manner of his ministry," Bernard said. "He was divisive, and failed to abide by agreed-upon conditions."
Bernard said she did not know what conditions he violated. She believes he left Maine after that.
In 1990, a northern Maine priest called the diocese to say Hill was back in the state, and the priest wanted to know if he could use Hill as a backup when he was sick or on vacation. The diocese repeated that Hill was not to be involved in active ministry, and wrote him a letter saying he was banned from any "external ministry" in Maine, Bernard said.
In 1995, the order informed the diocese that Hill was under suspension for disobedience. Four years later, the diocese received an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against Hill. It was forwarded to the order and to civil authorities, Bernard said.
Brincefield would not say if there had been other allegations against Hill.
Hill's name was one of the 33 living but inactive priests whose names were turned over to state prosecutors by the church in May.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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