Documents Tell inside Story of Church Sheltering Accused Priest

Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 18, 2002

Outside, prosecutors were building their case against a priest accused of molesting hard-luck children along the city's seedy waterfront. Inside, behind the brick walls of the chancery, the leaders of the Roman Catholic diocese were plotting a bare-knuckle legal defense.

The Rev. J. Joseph Ford, chancellor and chief administrator of the diocese, set the tone with lawyers. According to his handwritten notes, the diocese would give "every possible support" to the priest, "hold hard" to his innocence.

Sure, this was a mess, but not hopeless. The district attorney had to recognize the "political repercussions" of prosecuting a priest, Ford wrote.

As for the accusers, the youngest probably won't testify anyway, the priest's notes continued. His brother could be a problem, though.

"Older one - vindictive queer," Ford wrote. Then he underlined the last two words twice.

The Roman Catholic church has been widely criticized for mishandling accusations of pedophilia involving priests. However, what church leaders have said and done behind chancery walls has remained largely a mystery.

Not so for the Rev. Raymond-Joseph Lauzon. Several lawsuits were brought against him in the 1990s for allegedly abusing children in the 1970s and 1980s. For reasons that remain unclear, thousands of pages of documents compiled in those suits remain on public file in the Cumberland County courthouse.

Years before sex abuse charges were brought against Lauzon, the documents show, he was already considered a headache - a cleric his bishop once described, in writing, as "a mental case."

Yet, when he was accused of abusing children, the church defended him fiercely. Church leaders, the records indicate, were acting on an instinct to protect the church from scandal, and on the belief that any priest can be redeemed.

An Associated Press review of the documents failed to uncover a word of sympathy from church officials for the alleged victims. The late bishop of Portland, Edward O'Leary, who made his name fighting moral battles against abortion and pornography, was asked during pretrial testimony to name the victim in the case. His reply: "Father Lauzon."

Ford, now a parish priest, and other diocesan officials did not comment for this story. Neither did Lauzon, who has previously denied molesting children.

At the end of Lauzon's second year at St. Paul's Seminary, in Ottawa, Canada, administrators told him not to return.

Their letter to Lauzon's sponsoring bishop in Portland said: "The directors feel that they are relieving Your Excellency of a problem child by turning this young man away; better now than later."

Bishop Daniel Feeney, who has since died, gave Lauzon a second chance. Lauzon finished at another seminary and was ordained in 1955, at age 29.

Over the next eight years, he bounced around the state from parish to parish. At least five supervising pastors complained he was foul-mouthed, insulting, lazy or scornful of authority, diocesan records show.

"The man is a neurotic and psycho who looks for self-pity," one pastor, the Rev. Eugene Bettez, wrote to the bishop.

Finally sent home to await fill-in duties, Lauzon complained to a Vatican emissary. Defending himself, Bishop Feeney replied in writing that he had committed a "great error" by letting Lauzon finish seminary.

"Your Excellency knows American slang," Feeney wrote. "This man is a 'nut."'

Later that year, Lauzon underwent eight months of psychiatric counseling.

In 1969, Lauzon became director of a new church thrift shop near the Portland waterfront, then a seedy, crime-ridden part of town. There he stayed for 15 years distributing clothing, furniture and spiritual guidance.

"I felt that in serving the poor, Father Lauzon had finally found his calling," Bishop O'Leary, Feeney's successor, would say later in pretrial testimony.

As Anthony Matthews tells it today, he first tagged along at age 8 with an older brother on a trip to the thrift shop. Within a year, he says, Lauzon had introduced him to sex. By age 14, he says, he had more than 100 sexual encounters with Lauzon.

Eventually, all five of Anthony Matthews' brothers were abused by the priest, they later charged in lawsuits. Lauzon bought them a used car, a small boat and four motor bikes, he later acknowledged in pretrial testimony, saying he was just trying to keep them out of trouble.

Around 1977, a Portland woman, Madeline Shane, claimed to have overheard a young man say he brought runaway boys to the thrift shop, where Lauzon would molest them. She told five different priests, including an aide to the bishop, she said in an affidavit.

"He accused me of lying," she continued, "and when I told him I was telling the truth, he said he would pass the information on." She heard nothing more.

In the early 1980s, police began tracking reports of child molesting in the city's port area. The clues led to Lauzon.

Mark Dion, an investigator, remembers interrogating the priest. "He suggested that what I was doing was blasphemous, and I would have to answer to The Almighty for it," says Dion, now a county sheriff.

When Dion told church authorities of the inquiry, one priest said something that he never forgot. This is going to be difficult for Lauzon, the priest said, because it will make it hard for him to realize his dream.

The dream? To found an East Coast version of Boy's Town.

In 1984, Lauzon was indicted for gross sexual misconduct with Anthony and Joseph Matthews.

Asked later what he meant by "vindictive queer," Ford said he was just writing down "facts and theories" laid out by the lawyers, court papers show. One lawyer, Alexander MacNichol, says today he can't recall the phrase - or anything else about the case.

Bishop O'Leary, who is now dead, made it clear in pretrial testimony that the church probably would have sided with Lauzon, no matter what.

"Even if a priest has done things which are wrong or even sinful, our faith teaches us there is still a calling here from God and we may simply have not found quite the right vehicle for him."

But the diocese also feared scandal. After an early legal meeting, Ford wrote in his notes: "It is not merely Fr. Lauzon but our clergy and church."

Meanwhile, Lauzon went to Anthony Matthews, then 17, and begged him to recant.

"He started crying, telling me if I kept going on with what I was telling the police, it was going to be 10 to 20 years in prison," Matthews said in a recent interview. Feeling pressure and shame, the boy changed his story.

Lauzon pleaded guilty to witness tampering for approaching the boy and got 4 1/2 months in jail. In return, the sex charges were dropped.

Fresh from jail, Lauzon accepted 11 months of psychiatric care and resumed his shuffle through Maine parishes. In 1990, he joined a Franciscan monastery in Kennebunk.

After three years, he moved to the Eastern European country of Lithuania. There, he started a new life, teaching at St. Anthony College, a Franciscan school in Kretinga.

Within two years, lawsuits were piling up back home: six brought by the Matthews brothers and two by David and Steven Simard. The suits charged Lauzon's abuse went on for years, starting before most of the boys reached puberty. (Police reports show that at least two other boys also accused the priest of sex abuse.)

Kenneth Clegg, the Matthews' lawyer, says church leaders argued "that I was representing young men who were unsavory and untrustworthy liars and cheats, and we were doing damage to Lauzon and the church."

In 1997, after two years of legal hardball, the diocese settled the lawsuits. Anthony and Joseph Matthews say the church paid their family nearly $500,000.

Today, Lauzon, 76, is retired at a monastery in Lithuania. A spokesman said he won't grant interviews.

Grazina Martinkute, a religion instructor at the college where he taught, remembers Lauzon used to serve at Mass at a nearby church. After services, she recalls, he was sometimes surrounded by children.

He would hand out candy and stroke their hair.


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