Three men sue Catholic Diocese of Portland over childhood sexual abuse

·5 min read

Jun. 16—Three men who say they were abused in the Catholic church as boys sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland on Thursday, filing what appear to be the first civil lawsuits detailing childhood sexual abuse since the state removed a time limit for these claims last summer.

Maine first agreed to remove its statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases in 2000. But anyone who by then had already reached the 34-year time limit to file a complaint remained ineligible to do so. Changes to state law in July made it possible for "at least dozens" of Mainers with previously expired claims to seek legal action from their alleged perpetrators," said Michael Bigos, one of the attorneys for the three men.

"It's huge that survivors can come forward now, to hold the church accountable and to let other survivors know they're not alone," said Bigos, who over the last decade has worked on dozens of abuse-related cases.

In one of the new lawsuits, Robert Dupuis, who first shared his story in 2007, said he was abused on multiple occasions by priest John Curran in 1961, when Dupuis was a 12-year-old working part time at St. Joseph Church in Old Town in Penobscot County. Curran was reassigned to a church in Augusta in 1962. Today, St. Joseph Church is called the Holy Family Catholic Church.

Although Dupuis successfully petitioned the city of Augusta to remove the late priest's name from a local bridge 15 years ago, he was unable to seek legal action until now. In a written statement that his attorneys shared Thursday, he said the ability to sue gives him the opportunity to share his story "and by doing so encourage other survivors to come forward."

"There are many survivors like myself who were abused in childhood by the clergy," Dupuis said. "It's time for the church to stop minimizing the effects of sexual abuse on its victims and take full accountability for their negligence and malice."

The complaint from Dupuis was filed in Penobscot County Superior Court.

The other two people suing the diocese in York and Cumberland counties have asked to not be named. The Press Herald does not identify victims of sexual abuse without their consent.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which oversees the Catholic church in Maine, was one of the biggest opponents of the change in state law last year, arguing that the 34-year statute of limitations already provided ample time to take legal action and that the legal system would be overburdened by older claims.

"Defendants and courts must be protected from having to deal with cases that are so aged that no response is possible, be it as a result of loss of evidence, death, the passage of time and natural erosion of memory or lack of documentation," Bruce Gerrity, an attorney for the diocese, wrote in his testimony to the Legislature last year.

Dave Guthro, a spokesperson for the diocese, said via email Thursday that the diocese "doesn't comment on pending litigation and will proceed in accordance with the court's rules in due course."

In the complaints filed this week, attorneys Bigos and Joseph Gousse paint a picture of the diocese as home to several pedophiles whom church leaders had reason to be aware of and yet did not remove or punish, thus failing to protect young parishioners.

Several of the priests named in the complaints already have been publicly identified, either through previous legal action or because they were eventually removed by the diocese. They include Ronald Michaud, the priest at the center of a lawsuit in 2007 in which a Kennebec County judge awarded a former altar boy more than $4.4 million in damages.

John Shorty, named in one of the new complaints, was urged to leave the diocese in 2006, according to archived reports from the Bangor Daily News. John Harris, another priest named in a new complaint, was permanently removed from the priesthood in 2015.

Curran, who was a priest in various parishes for 45 years, retired voluntarily from St. Augustine Catholic Church in Augusta in 1972 and died in 1976.

One of the complaints alleges grooming and sexual abuse by Rene Daniel beginning in 1979. Daniel was a confirmation teacher at St. Hyacinth Parish in Westbrook in the late 1970s, where Shorty and Harris, who were not yet priests at the time, also were working with young parishioners.

Daniel served as director of confirmation for the parish and taught Sunday school classes from his parents' home, the complaint states.

The Portland Press Herald reached Daniel, a member of the Westbrook Planning Board, Thursday afternoon by phone. Daniel confirmed he was a youth leader in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and said he had no comment about the allegations.

All three complaints make mention of earlier reports of abuse by Maine priests and other church leaders dating to the mid-20th century, naming the Rev. James P. Vallely, who was accused of abuse in 1955, and Monsignor Henry Bolz, who was accused of abuse in 1963. Both men were allowed to continue work in their respective parishes for decades, despite allegations against them.

As an international entity, the Catholic Church has had policies denouncing sexual abuse of minors and detailing the secretive process for investigating and judging these incidents since 1922, according to the complaints. The existence of such policies, the complaints state, indicate that the diocese was aware of the abuse and failed to protect the thousands of parishioners it served.

Church policies seemed to be designed to protect the priests more than the children, Bigos said Thursday.

"In each of these three cases being filed this week, the survivors experienced grooming and abuse perpetrated by priests and or others involved with the Catholic Church," Bigos said. "They were particularly vulnerable."