Churchgoers Saddened by Accused Priests

By Amy Calder
Morning Sentinel [Maine]
January 31, 2007

Parishioners of Catholic churches in Waterville, Winslow and Skowhegan say they were surprised and saddened to learn that priests they knew are accused of sexual abuse against children.

On Saturday, Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine identified several priests who were removed from the ministry because of allegations of sexual abuse. Malone said he identified the men out of concern that additional offenses could occur while the cases are being investigated by the Vatican.

Three of the priests Malone identified worked at local churches. George W. Beaudet served at Notre Dame in Waterville and Notre Dame de Lourdes in Skowhegan; Michael L. Plourde served at St. John the Baptist Church in Winslow; and Peter Gorham served at St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church in Waterville. None of the priests could be reached for comment.

Edward Fredette, a member of the Parish of the Holy Spirit, which includes churches in Waterville, said he knew most of the priests because of his work as a funeral home owner. He said he was shocked to learn that Beaudet and Gorham had been named.

"They were nice guys," Fredette said Tuesday. "I had nothing against them and they never bothered me."

Fredette, 81, owned Veilleux Funeral Home in Waterville for 50 years. He said that in his dealings with the priests, he never had any inclination that anything was wrong.

"George Beaudet was a complete surprise and Peter Gorham was also," he said. "I didn't have a clue. It kind of does things to me because we've never had any bad things with them. These guys have always been friendly and we've worked with them."

Beaudet served at Notre Dame in Waterville twice; first as a deacon in the summer of 1974, and later as a priest from 1976 to 1978, according to information issued Tuesday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. He also served at Notre Dame in Skowhegan from 1987 to 1994.

Plourde served at St. John's in Winslow from 1992 to 1993.

Real Cyr, 82, of Winslow, recalled that Plourde filled in temporarily at the church, but he did not know him well.

"I remember him as a big guy," Cyr said. "He wasn't here very long."

Cyr says the fact that priests are not permitted to marry contributes to the problem.

"If they let these priests marry, those things wouldn't happen," Cyr said. "Hey, they're human, like us. Why shouldn't they let them marry?"

He said he believes that if changes do not occur in the church, the number of priests and staffers will plummet, seriously jeopardizing the church's existence.

"I'm 82 years old and I've seen a lot of changes in the Catholic Church," Cyr said. "I've seen a lot of change in all the churches. Right now, we are so short-handed that if it keeps going the way it has been we'll have to watch church on television."

The only priest named Saturday who served locally and whose case has already been resolved by the Vatican is Gorham, 79, who reportedly is ill. The Vatican removed him from the ministry and assigned him to a life of penance and prayer, according to Bishop Malone, the leader of Maine's 234,000 Roman Catholics. Gorham was first accused in 1995 of an offense that reportedly occurred in 1953. He was allowed to retire in 1996.

Malone said Beaudet, 67, was accused in 2000. He was removed from the ministry that year because of allegations dating back to 1979. Additional complaints were received in 2002 about conduct dating back to 1980, according to Malone.

Plourde, 56, was accused by two minors in 1994 and was removed from the ministry that year. Additional complaints were received in 1996 and 2002 for offenses that took place prior to Plourde's removal, Malone said.

Evalyn Bowman, a longtime parishioner at Notre Dame in Skowhegan, said many people were saddened by the news that Beaudet was one of the priests on the list.

"They're unhappy and they're very sad about it, and all we can do at this point is to keep everyone in our prayers, including him and whoever happened to be harmed," she said. "It isn't just Father Beaudet; it's all the priests."

Lorraine Fecteau of Winslow says the whole body of Christ grieves and suffers at times like this, and people are being purged and purified.

"That being said, our faith is not in men but in Jesus," she said. "The first scandal took place when Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him, not once, but three times, and they had just spent three years with him."

Fecteau said she blames much of what is happening on liberation theology that she says has crept into churches and seminaries over the last 40 years.

"I believe it was Pope Paul VI who predicted that 'the smoke of Satan has infiltrated our church,'" she said. "I also believe that for every bad priest, there are hundreds of good priests who serve God's people in a selfless and honorable way, but the media won't expound on them."

Contacted Tuesday, several other parishioners in Skowhegan and Waterville who remember or knew the priests declined to comment about them or about the bishop's recent announcement. Some said discussing it publicly hurts the healing process.

A spokeswoman at the Parish of the Holy Spirit in Waterville referred all questions to the Diocese.

The Diocese did not release addresses for the priests, but a recording at a number for the Rev. George Beaudet in Hampden says his phone cannot receive calls at this time. Plourde reportedly lives in Biddeford. A Verizon recording says a number for Michael Plourde in that town is nonpublished at the customer's request.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247


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