Diocese Forces Priest to Resign

By Kelley Bouchard
Portland Press Herald [South Portland ME]
October 24, 2004

SOUTH PORTLAND A Roman Catholic priest has been forced to resign after a diocesan investigation found that he failed to report sexual misconduct by a church volunteer and later allowed the man to live in the rectory of St. John the Evangelist Church. Investigators with the Diocese of Portland also concluded that the Rev. Paul Coughlin, 69, had inappropriate physical contact with a minor in 1985 while he was pastor at St. Mary's Church in Bangor.

Coughlin's resignation was announced at Saturday afternoon Masses at Holy Cross Church on Cottage Road and St. John's on Main Street, where Coughlin had been pastor since 1996.

Bishop Richard Malone placed Coughlin on administrative leave in early August while church officials investigated his long association with John Skinner Sr., who had been indicted for sexually assaulting a teenager.

Skinner has since pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two boys he met through youth programs at St. Mary of Lourdes Church in Lincoln, where he volunteered from the late 1980s to 2000.

Monsignor Michael Henchal, pastor of St. Bartholomew's Church in Cape Elizabeth and administrator of the two South Portland parishes in Coughlin's absence, read a letter from Malone to about 200 parishioners at the 4 p.m. Mass at Holy Cross.

According to Malone's letter, the church investigation found that Coughlin violated a 1987 diocesan policy when he failed to report information he received in 1989 from a minor who had been sexually abused by Skinner, and that Coughlin failed to take steps to provide assistance to that victim.

Coughlin then allowed Skinner to live at St. John's rectory from 1999 to 2001 "with no precautions or notifications," Malone wrote. "That decision provided Skinner with access to minors when Skinner attended a youth ministry convention claiming to be a representative of St. John and Holy Cross parishes."

The investigation also established that while living at St. John's rectory, and with Coughlin's knowledge, Skinner was certified as a youth minister by using the name of the parish.

"Let me be clear that the diocese did not find any evidence that minors were abused by Skinner in South Portland or at the youth convention," Malone wrote.

Skinner was sentenced in late August to 18 years in prison, with all but five years suspended. He also received six years of probation and will be required to register as a violent sex offender.

The diocese also reviewed a complaint made two years ago against Coughlin that alleged sexual misconduct with a minor in 1985 while serving in Bangor. Church officials said public authorities were aware of this complaint and no criminal charges were filed.

"Even though no new evidence specifically regarding that complaint surfaced, it is now reasonable to believe there was inappropriate physical contact at that time," Malone wrote.

Malone concluded that none of Coughlin's actions constituted a criminal offense, but they were "ethical violations." Church officials said the results of the 2002 and 2004 investigations have been forwarded to the state Attorney General's Office for review.

Coughlin resigned at Malone's request. Malone has banned Coughlin from any public ministry for the time being.

"After a reasonable period of time, I will revisit that decision," Malone wrote. "Exceptions will be considered in circumstances regarding ministry by Father Coughlin to members of his own family."

Coughlin, originally from Woburn, Mass., has also served congregations in Oakland, Augusta, Waterville, Rumford and Wells.

Malone urged anyone who may have been sexually abused by clergy or a church representative to notify police and diocesan officials. He apologized for not being able to deliver his message in person because he is representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at a national meeting.

Malone's letter will be read before each Mass this weekend at both South Portland churches. Holy Cross parishioners declined to comment on Coughlin's resignation.

The diocesan crisis team will be on hand after each Mass to conduct listening sessions and answer questions. A handful of parishioners stayed behind to talk at Holy Cross.


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