December 9, 2010

Allegations of priest abuse still reported

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Nine years after the Catholic Church's sexual-abuse scandal erupted in New England, reports of abuse committed by priests decades ago continue to trickle in to Maine's diocese.

And church leaders are still being criticized for not providing enough information.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland announced last week that, for the fifth consecutive year, it is in full compliance with the church's national child-protection policies and standards. The standards include reporting and investigating complaints, and screening and training employees.

The diocese has failed to meet the standards once since American bishops set up annual reviews eight years ago in response to the scandal, which began in Boston in December 2001 and eventually brought to light hundreds of cases of abuse in Maine and elsewhere.

Maine's Bishop Richard Malone said Friday that "this sad and shameful episode of Church history will continue for as long as victims are in pain."

While announcing the results of its annual audit, the diocese said new accusations were made against seven priests during the latest 12-month audit period. The most recent incident allegedly occurred in 1982.

The diocese has withheld the names of the seven priests, citing a variety of reasons.

Two of the priests are dead and have already been named publicly because of previous abuse allegations, said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese. One of the priests is alive but has been removed from the ministry and named publicly because of previous allegations.

In two other cases, the people who complained could not identify the priest who allegedly abused them, Bernard said.

The two remaining priests are the subject of abuse allegations for the first time and are under investigation by the diocese, she said. In most cases when new, credible allegations are made against a priest, the diocese publicly names them and removes them from parish duties, said Bernard.

But the two priests in question were not actively assigned to a parish, because of age, illness or some other reason, she said. They were formally suspended from taking on any assignments pending the investigations, but there was no need to name them or notify their parishioners, she said.

"Right now, we see it as an accusation and that's it," she said. "If it's substantiated, then we would put out the release with their names."

For Paul Kendrick of Freeport, a longtime critic of the church's handling of abuse cases, the latest announcement by the diocese is another example of the church trying to limit information and minimize the damage.

"We want (Malone) to post all the names, photos, etc. on the diocese website, just like the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has done," he said.

It shouldn't matter if an accused priest has a parish or not, he said.

"Other than having to explain why a priest is leaving a parish, when they put that name out ... it presents the opportunity for other victims who may have been abused by this person to, for the first time in their lives, tell someone what happened to them" and get help and support, Kendrick said.

Bernard said that, while withholding names of priests who are under investigation, Malone wants victims to come forward.

"That's why every time the bishop puts out anything like this, he always is saying, 'If there is anyone else out there, please come forward. We want to offer help,'" she said.

 

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