Diocese Reaches Settlement in Priest Abuse Claim

Associated Press, carried in [Portland ME]
August 16, 2005

PORTLAND, Maine --Maine's Roman Catholic diocese has agreed to settle a lawsuit by a Sidney man who claimed he was abused by a priest during a seven-year period beginning at age 13, the two sides announced Tuesday.

The terms of the settlement with Michael Fortin, 34, were not made public and neither Fortin's lawyers nor a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Portland would elaborate.

In a brief written statement, Fortin and Bishop Richard Malone said confidentiality was neither required by the diocese nor requested by Fortin.

However, it added, "... both parties have agreed that it is in their interests to put this matter behind them, and both sides, therefore, have agreed to let this statement stand without further elaboration as their only public comment on this matter."

The Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful praised the diocese for coming forward to reach a settlement, calling it a welcome change from legal tactics of the past that added to the suffering of innocent victims and abuse survivors.

"Justice has been served in this case and we appreciate Michael and the bishop's desire to put this matter behind them," the group's Maine representative council said in a statement.

But others in the reform movement characterized the settlement as a business decision in which compassion or thoughts for the victim's well-being were not a consideration.

"It is naive for anyone to think or say that this settlement agreement demonstrates a new era of goodwill on the part of church officials," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Justice will only be served in this case if Bishiop Malone undertakes an independent investigation and makes public all files and documents."

Fortin sued the church and the Rev. Raymond Melville in 2000, claiming that the priest sexually abused him beginning in 1985 while Melville was assigned to St. Mary's Church in Augusta.

Fortin's claim against the diocese had been stalled until the Supreme Judicial Court's 5-2 landmark ruling in May that the supervisory relationship between bishops and priests is not protected from legal scrutiny under the Constitution when priests are known to be abusive.

The church's attorneys argued that First Amendment rights prohibited the court from ruling on matters that pertained to the workings of a religious institution and whether the church and its bishops are liable for the actions of its priests.

A Superior Court judge earlier had ordered Melville, who left the active priesthood in 1997, to pay Fortin $500,000 while dismissing the case against the diocese and the bishop.

The centerpiece of Fortin's appeal was a memo in which church officials wrote that they kept their concerns about Melville quiet for fear of "liability and ... scandal," according to court records.