Bishop Appeals Abuse Finding to Vatican

By David Hench
Portland Press Herald

December 20, 2008

Maine's Roman Catholic bishop has appealed to the Vatican a church tribunal's finding that there was no proof that a Maine priest, Thomas Lee, had committed sexual abuse of minors.

The panel of three priests, with expertise in church law, decided that Lee's actions in the 1980s were imprudent but that multiple allegations of sexual abuse of minors had not been proved.

It was the first sexual abuse case involving a priest to be adjudicated by a tribunal within the diocese.

Bishop Richard J. Malone requested an appeal of the decision in September. In a written statement issued Friday, he said he wants to be sure that each piece of evidence was properly presented to the tribunal in 2007.

"I am stunned and disappointed at the outcome of this case and frustrated that the process has taken so long," Malone said. "It has undoubtedly been difficult for the families involved."

Malone said he issued Friday's statement about the appeal because he doesn't know how long the process might take and wants to be open about the case.

Lee left the active ministry in 2003, and his case was forwarded to the Vatican the following year. He had requested a canonical trial, and the Vatican concurred. In 2006, the Vatican authorized a tribunal in Portland, and in 2007, the panel took evidence.

It informed the bishop of its decision in August.

Lee, now 81, served in several parishes during a Maine career of almost 50 years.

A Boothbay Harbor woman accused Lee of molesting her son while Lee was pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in Boothbay Harbor, from 1971 to 1985. The diocese reached an out-of-court settlement with the woman.

The son, now in his 30s, did not file a claim himself and did not disclose the allegations until 2002.

In addition to serving in Boothbay Harbor, Lee served as pastor in Millinocket, Bath and Lyman and served as the chaplain at Mercy Hospital and the Boys Training Center, later known as the Maine Youth Center, in South Portland.

The diocese determined in 2004 that at least some of the allegations against Lee were credible.

David Clohessy, spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Malone's appeal doesn't go far enough.

"This is essentially an admission of Lee's guilt by Malone a long-overdue and insufficiently clear admission of guilt," Clohessy said. "At the same time, it's very disingenuous for the bishop to pretend to be powerless and blame the Vatican for not doing more or moving faster."

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:


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