Catholic Diocese Closes Case of Suspended Priest's Suicide

By Eric Russell
Bangor Daily News (Maine)
July 10, 2008

Allegations of sexual abuse against a Maine priest who committed suicide late last month will not be pursued further by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

The Rev. James P. Robichaud, 56, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on June 27 inside the rectory at a Dover-Foxcroft church. The day before, Robichaud was temporarily suspended pending an investigation into claims that he abused a young female nearly 30 years ago in Massachusetts.

The diocese revealed on Wednesday that it first learned of the allegation against Robichaud in January and began investigating the matter. The diocese also said that Robichaud knew several weeks before he took his life that he likely would be suspended and that his suspension would be made public.

"At the time of his death, it did not seem appropriate to discuss publicly many details about the complaint and our procedures," Bishop Richard J. Malone said in a statement. "It was a time for grieving, and we still grieve today about this horrific tragedy."

Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese, said as far as she's concerned, the investigation is closed.

"There's not too much more to say at this point," she said Wednesday by telephone. "We don't need to come to any final conclusion. The only reason for us to pursue an investigation was to determine whether he would need to be removed."

Robichaud, an Augusta native, came to Maine in 2000 and was named administrator of St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover-Foxcroft and St. Francis in Brownville Junction. St. Anne Parish in Dexter was added to his responsibilities in 2005. The three parishes joined in 2007 to become Our Lady of the Snows.

The Portland diocese was notified in January by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate of Massachusetts, a religious order of men in which Robichaud served between 1979 and 2000, about the alleged abuse in a Lowell, Mass., parish.

In Wednesday's statement, the Portland diocese indicated it had begun an investigation into the abuse claim at the time of Robichaud's death, including contacting the alleged victim and interviewing Robichaud.

"Since the complaint had a semblance of truth, and the preliminary investigation could not immediately disprove the allegation, Bishop Malone was in the position of having to temporarily suspend Father Robichaud from ministry," the statement said. "Father Robichaud had known about the complaint and the possibility of temporary removal for months."

Barbara Dorris, outreach di-rector for a Chicago-based na-tional support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement Wednesday that the 6-month timeframe didn't add up.

"It certainly didn't take six months to determine whether a child sex abuse report against Robichaud contained 'a sem-blance of truth,'" Dorris wrote. "In those six months, we can just hope that Robichaud didn't molest a child, intimidate a witness, threaten a victim, de-stroy some evidence or hunt anyone in any way."

Bernard said in Robichaud's case, the parishes he served likely would have been told during the weekend that followed his death and the public announcement would follow.

"Whenever we temporarily remove somebody, it is done publicly," she said. "You can't remove someone and not tell people why or where they are going."

During the investigation, the diocese offered Robichaud pastoral care and support as well as counseling, the statement said. He was represented by a canonical adviser and a civil attorney. On the day he was informed about his temporary removal, his canonical adviser had offered him support and a place to stay pending other arrangements.

Instead, Robichaud took his own life.

"It bears repeating that there was no way to ever get enough information to substantiate or dismiss the allegation. Our investigation never progressed far enough," Bernard said.

According to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, this was the only complaint they ever received against Robichaud, and there have been no such complaints in Maine.

The Catholic Church considers suicide a mortal sin, but a funeral Mass and burial in a Catholic cemetery still are offered to victims of suicide. To commit a mortal sin individuals must be mentally healthy and not be acting on reasoning clouded by confusion or despair, according to church teachings.

Robichaud's funeral Mass was held July 2 at St. Augustine Catholic Church, with burial afterward at Holy Family Cemetery in Augusta.


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