Kennebunk Pastor Will Step Aside Amid Probe

By Tess Nacelewicz
Portland Press Herald
December 4, 2005

Kennebunk — The pastor of St. Martha's Roman Catholic Church is stepping aside while the Diocese of Portland investigates an allegation that he improperly touched a 9-year-old girl six years ago. Bishop Richard Malone made the announcement regarding the Rev. Laurent Laplante to parishioners at Saturday afternoon Mass at the church off Route 1.

Malone said the 74-year-old priest has denied any wrongdoing, according to a statement released by the diocese. However, Laplante has agreed to "step aside temporarily" and cooperate with the diocese as it looks into the matter, Malone said.

He said the Rev. Maurice Lebel, a retired priest in the diocese, will fill in for Laplante, who has been with the parish for 10 years.

Laplante allegedly touched the girl in 1999, but she only recently reported it, according to the diocese's statement. The allegation was that "Fr. Laplante touched her pants on the knee and inner thigh," Malone said.

The diocese said it immediately reported the allegation to public authorities. Malone has also spoken to the family of the girl, now a high school student, and the diocese has offered her support and counseling, the diocese said.

However, Malone stressed to parishioners Saturday that the girl's claim is still only that.

"Let me be very clear, this is an allegation," the bishop's statement said. "The diocese is just beginning its investigation in the hope that greater clarity can be obtained as to what indeed happened."

Malone said Laplante's removal from public ministry is consistent with diocesan policy and is to "preserve the integrity of the process, to give potential witnesses the greatest freedom and to further the church's commitment to protect children."

Malone urged anyone with information on the case, or who has been abused by a priest or some other representative of the church, to contact the diocese.

However, Paul Kendrick, a co-founder of the Maine chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a church reform group which advocates for victims of clergy abuse, said that group advises victims of abuse to contact police first.

Kendrick, who in the past has criticized the way the diocese has responded to abuse allegations, said Saturday that in this case, "it seems (the diocese) has reacted properly to an allegation in having removed the priest."

Laplante, who is originally from Lewiston, was ordained in 1957. According to the diocese, he first served at St. Ignatius Church in Northeast Harbor in 1957 and later that year served at St. Charles Church in Brunswick. From 1959 to 1967 he served at St. Theresa Parish, Mexico. He then worked for the diocese as associate director of religious education from 1967 to 1972.

Laplante then served at St. Matthew Parish in Hampden until 1978, when he became pastor at St. Margaret Parish in Old Orchard Beach. In 1983, he was named pastor of St. Matthew, Limerick, and in 1989 he became pastor of St. Andre Parish, Biddeford, until he was assigned to Kennebunk in 1995.


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