Decision on Return of Priest Reversed

By Judy Harrison
Bangor Daily News
February 9, 2008

BANGOR, Maine — The head of Maine's Roman Catholics announced Friday that he has reversed his decision to reinstate a former Bangor priest to the ministry in response to a public outcry.

Bishop Richard J. Malone said that in allowing the Rev. Paul Coughlin, 73, to serve as a fill-in priest he had "misjudged the possibility of an effective ministry for Father Coughlin."

Malone said Thursday that Coughlin, who is retired, could act as a fill-in priest at parishes around the states except in Bangor, South Portland and Wells where he was associated with a sex offender.

"I apologize to abuse victims and all the Catholic faithful who feel betrayed by my earlier decision," Malone said. "It was never my intention to offend or cause you distress, and it pains me to think I have caused some to be disheartened or distrusting. It is my sincere resolve to rebuild that trust. I hope that you will accept my actions today as a humble beginning."

The bishop said in a press release that he is completely restricting from ministry the priest who served at St. Mary Catholic Church in Bangor in 1978 when the Cedar Street landmark burned to the ground. For two years, parishioners celebrated Mass at the chapel at the former Dow Air Force Base while a new church was built on Ohio Street.

The modern St. Mary's was dedicated in December 1980. The priest left Bangor in 1987.

Coughlin was temporarily removed from his South Portland pastorate in August 2004 when church officials began an investigation into whether he put children at risk by allowing John Skinner Sr., 65, to live with him at the St. John's rectory between 1999 and 2001.

"Now, the public outcry over my decision to allow him some public ministry has made it clear that I misjudged the possibility of an effective ministry for Father Coughlin," Malone said Friday. "And it's clear that many are deeply angry and hurt that I took such an action. For these reasons I informed Father Coughlin today that his ministry is once again completely restricted in the interest of the common good."

Coughlin had not celebrated Mass in parishes since 2004 but had held services in a "convent setting," the bishop said.

A spokeswoman for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests on Friday called the bishop's reversal "a victory for children, Catholics and common sense."

The St. Louis-based organization had urged Malone to reconsider his decision.

"Let's hope that Malone and other bishops resist the temptation to bring back abusive and complicit priests and have the decency to be honest with parishioners and the public if they do take such irresponsible and reckless moves," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP.

The man Coughlin allowed to live in the South Portland rectory was sentenced Aug. 27, 2004, in Penobscot County Superior Court to 18 years in prison, with all but five years suspended. Skinner pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two boys he met through Catholic church youth groups in Penobscot and Hancock counties. It also found that Coughlin failed to follow church policy in 1989 when he failed to report receiving information from a minor who had been abused and that he failed to take steps to provide assistance to that victim.

He has been released from prison and is living in Bangor, according to the Maine Sex Offender Registry.



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