Northeast province of Jesuits to release list of credibly accused priests
By Eric Russell
January 12, 2019
| James Talbot, 80, a former Cheverus High teacher and Jesuit priest, pleaded guilty last fall to sexually assaulting a boy in Freeport in the 1990s.
Photo by Brianna Soukup
The regional body's report, which may include names that have never been made public, shows the church's transparency push after years of turmoil.
The Jesuit governing body that oversees the Northeast, including Maine, will release on Tuesday a list of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor dating back to 1950.
The list from the USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church commonly referred to as the Jesuits, is likely to include names that already have been public, such as priests who have been criminally charged. But it also could include the names of priests who have never been named publicly.
“I think for a number of reasons, this province is going to have particular interest from many people because of the influence of the Jesuits on the East Coast, from New York up through New England,” said Robert Hoatson, a former priest who now runs a New Jersey-based nonprofit called Road to Recovery that advocates for church abuse victims.
Last month, the other four U.S. provinces released their own lists of credibly accused priests – defined as instances where a preponderance of evidence suggested that the allegation is more likely true than not. Those lists totaled 237 names and included information about whether the priests had one or multiple victims, where they were assigned when the alleged abuse occurred and where they are now. Many are deceased.
31% OF CATHOLICS TRUST CHURCH HIGHLY
It’s the latest in a series of moves toward transparency as the Roman Catholic Church seeks to move past an abuse scandal that has persisted for nearly two decades. Trust in the church has waned. On Friday, a new poll by Gallup found that just 31 percent of Catholics in the Unites States rate the honesty and ethical standards of clergy as “very high” or “high,” a record low.
“I think we’re starting to see more of this trend of something called transitional justice,” said Thomas Groome, a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. “The Catholic Church, we know, has been practicing injustice when it comes to abuse, so this is an opportunity for truth-telling, for calling a spade a spade.”
Maine’s Jesuit presence is most often associated with Cheverus High School in Portland, which has had its own history of abuse allegations, and the Jesuit-run Our Lady of Hope Parish, which oversees two churches, St. Pius on Ocean Avenue near Cheverus and St. Joseph, located with the Catholic elementary school St. Brigid.
But Jesuits also have been assigned to local parishes across the state. In the Diocese of Portland, which covers all of Maine, there are 118 diocesan priests and 34 religious order priests, according to Dave Guthro, a spokesman for the diocese.
The Jesuits are the largest male religious order in the church with an emphasis on teaching and intellectual research. Its priests are not under the authority of local bishops. Instead, they report to a regional province, of which there are five in the United States.
Religious order priests, including Jesuits, account for about 31 percent of Catholic priests nationwide, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a research center at Georgetown University. Because they don’t report to a diocese, religious order priests have been criticized by abuse victim advocates for having little accountability.
The USA Northeast Province comprises 550 Jesuits and is the largest in the world.
CHEVERUS TIED TO DARK PAST
Cheverus High School, founded in 1917, has been owned and operated by the Jesuits since 1942. It was an all-boys school until 2000 and has educated many prominent and powerful people.
In 1998, several men came forward alleging that a former longtime track coach, Charlie Malia, sexually abused them over a period of many years. Malia, who was not a Jesuit priest, was never charged but acknowledged the misconduct to a Press Herald reporter at the time.
Another former Cheverus teacher, James Talbot, who was a Jesuit priest, has been revealed as a serial abuser of young boys, beginning when he was at Boston College High School in the 1970s and continuing when he transferred to Cheverus. He remained there until 1998 when former Cheverus student Michael Doherty came forward to say that Talbot had abused him in the mid-1980s. Talbot was fired from the school about two months after the accusations were brought to the bishop.
Doherty settled his lawsuit in 2001, and his case prompted others to come forward. By 2003, 14 victims of Talbot had settled lawsuits totaling more than $5.2 million.
Jim Scanlan, one of Talbot’s victims from Boston College High School whose report of abuse led to the first criminal charges against Talbot, attended one of Talbot’s parole hearings in Massachusetts in 2009. He heard his abuser make a startling confession that he had victimized as many as “88 or 89” children in his life. It wasn’t clear how many of those were in Maine.
This year, Talbot, now 80, pleaded guilty to charges that he sexually assaulted a boy in Freeport in the 1990s. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all by three years suspended.
Cheverus High School officials were aware that the list was being made public but declined to comment.
“Cheverus High School has not been involved with the creation of this list. For that reason, we direct questions regarding this matter to the USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus,” Jeannette Wycoff, a spokesman for the school, said in a written statement.
LETTERS OF SUITABILITY
Guthro, the spokesman for the Portland diocese, said there have been major changes in the church since the creation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002.
All priests who serve in a Maine parish and/or work with children must possess a letter of suitability from their community and go through extensive background checks. They also must also complete training in a safe-environment program.
Guthro would not release a list of Jesuits who have been assigned to Maine, saying that information should come from the Northeast Province.
Michael Gabriele, a spokesman for the Jesuits, said the release would include a detailed statement from the Northeast provincial leader, the Rev. John Cecero, but he would not release any information prior to Tuesday.
NATIONAL ONLINE DATABASE
The website BishopAccountability.org maintains a database of Catholic priests who have been publicly accused of abuse. There are 49 with ties to Maine, including two identified as Jesuits – William Cahill and Joseph Dooley.
Cahill was accused of abuse by at least three male students at Cheverus between 1950 and 1960, according to a report released in 2005 by the Maine Attorney General’s Office. He was never charged and died in 1986.
Dooley was assigned to Cheverus between 1954 and 1958 but the allegations against him came from a parishioner at St. Dominic’s Church in Portland, according to the same AG report. He died in 1983 without ever being charged.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
It’s unclear whether the list’s release will lead to any charges or lawsuits. In many cases around the country, the statute of limitations for pursuing criminal charges has long passed. Some victims already have pursued lawsuits or financial settlements with mixed success.
“I think the release of this list is going to have a cathartic effect in the sense that it could spur victims coming forward who heretofore have not,” Hoatson said. “But I don’t know if there will be a lot of surprises.”
Groome said the church has still had difficulty fully recognizing the gravity of the scandal.
“I think the mistake the church made was: They thought these were just sins, not crimes,” he said. “And in the church, you repent your sins and are forgiven.”