Church Investigating Whether Priest Jeopardized Safety of Minor

By Ryan Lenz
Associated Press
August 8, 2004

South Portland - A Roman Catholic priest has been suspended while the Portland diocese investigates his involvement with a former church volunteer charged with sexual assault.

Parishioners at two churches learned Sunday that the diocese is investigating the Rev. Paul Coughlin's relationship with the man who once served as a youth minister.

The volunteer, John Skinner, was recently indicted for sexually assaulting a teenager from 1990 to 1994 while youth minister at St. Mary of Lourdes in Lincoln, Maine.

"This is an ethical issue with the church, and we want to know when did Father Coughlin know that there was a complaint against John Skinner," diocese spokeswoman Sue Bernard said. "We're trying to find out what he knew and when he knew it."

The diocese said it is investigating whether Coughlin's actions "put a minor at risk" but would not elaborate. Church officials also are investigating whether Coughlin allowed Skinner to live with him at a rectory in Portland.

Coughlin did not immediately return calls Sunday to the Portland rectory.

Coughlin, 69, was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor in 1985. Those claims were investigated in 2002 and could not be substantiated, but the diocese plans to re-examine the allegations, Bernard said.

Coughlin, who is originally from Woburn, Mass., but has lived in Maine for decades, has served as pastor of Holy Cross and St. John the Evangelist in South Portland since 1996. He also has served churches in six other Maine communities.

Church officials expect the investigation to take several months. Coughlin will not be allowed to live in the St. John's rectory or have unsupervised contact with children until the investigation is complete, Bernard said.

Monsignor Michael Henchal, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Cape Elizabeth, will serve as temporary administrator for Coughlin's parishes.

Henchal, who has known Coughlin for 30 years, said he was saddened by word of Coughlin's suspension but stressed it does not mean Coughlin has done anything wrong.

"Sometimes people are restored and sometimes they are not," Henchal said. "But in some ways it enhances credibility when you take meaningful action and show that you are taking complaints seriously."


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