Vatican Decision on Abusive Priest Outrages Alleged Victim

By Susan Sharon
August 21, 2009

One of the people who claims he was sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest in Maine 20 years ago says he is outraged by the Vatican's decision to allow Reverend Michael Doucette to remain as a priest. The Diocese of Portland removed Doucette from active public ministry in 2002 and the Vatican has now upheld the action. But the Vatican could have taken more severe measures.

The Vatican could have chosen to laicize or defrock Reverend Michael Doucette, who has admitted he engaged in abuse in the past. In other words, Doucette could have been formally stripped of his priesthood. Instead, the Vatican upheld the disciplinary measures imposed by the Diocese of Portland in 2002. Those include being removed from active ministry, not being able to present himself as a priest or wearing clerical garb.

A self-described survivor of sexual abuse by Michael Doucette, David Gagnon, says this is a terrible message to victims. "I think the decision for the Diocese and for Rome not to defrock him is basically a mild slap on the wrist and a basic suggestion that what he did was not all that bad, and you know, you can rape 15-year-olds and still be a priest."

Gagnon says his sexual abuse by Doucette began in the late 1970s when he was 15 years old and a member of Doucette's congregation at St. Andre's parish in Biddeford. Gagnon says it lasted for several years and caused him to experience post traumatic stress, for which he is still undergoing therapy.

Because he thought no one would believe him, and because he says Doucette tried to make him feel their relationship was special, Gagnon says he waited to come forward with his allegations until 1991, well after the statute of limitations had expired to bring criminal charges. Instead, Gagnon says he was offered a small settlement by the diocese.

He's now working to try to bring charges against Doucette in Canada. "He was in northern Maine in a number of different congregations and he brought me into New Brunswick one time to go to a cottage that was a place, apparantly, where a number of people were abused. I am currently working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to see if we can have him extradited to face charges -- and in Canada there is no statute of limitations."

Gagnon says he doesn't think it's acceptable for any priest accused of abuse to remain a member of the clergy. But Sue Bernard, Communications Director for the Catholic Diocese of Portland, says the decision to defrock a priest is entirely up to the Vatican. And she says each priest abuse case is considered differently.

"All of the cases have come back differently, some of them, the priests have been asked to have a life of prayer and penance, which is very much like what this is or sometime they are laicised. In this case, he'll remain under the auspices of the Diocese but he will not have any public ministry."

Bernard says after Doucette admitted to abuse in 1991, he was immediately sent by the Diocese for treatment. He was re-instated in 1992 and removed again ten years later when another person complained of improper sexual advances that had allegedly taken place years earlier. Bernard says Doucette has since found a job in the public sector, one that does not involve contact with children.


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