Tuesday, March 26, 2002
Prosecutors reluctant to name priests
By GREGORY D. KESICH, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
The names of most of the Roman Catholic priests from Maine accused of sexually
molesting children may never be made public, according to prosecutors.
Disclosing allegations contained in 75 years of church personnel records violates state
law, they say, if there is a reasonable possibility that they would "constitute an
unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
In a joint statement Monday, Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson
and Attorney General Steven Rowe said that prosecutors must remain "mindful of the
rights of both victims and the accused, some of whom may be innocent or may not have
the capacity to defend themselves."
Anderson and Rowe said they would prosecute any case in which they could prove a
crime was committed within the statute of limitations, but offered little hope for other
Their stand is significant, because almost all of the cases of sexual abuse by priests in
Maine coming to light involve conduct that happened too long ago to prosecute. Few, if
any, of the allegations turned over to Anderson by the church last week are expected to
result in criminal charges.
Anderson and Rowe outlined their position in response to a Portland Press Herald
request, under Maine's Right to Know law, for any documents held by the prosecutors
that were not part of an active criminal investigation, such as evidence of crimes
committed by people who are now dead. The newspaper also requested documents from
cases that are too old to prosecute once investigators determine they will not file a case.
Advocates for victims of abuse by priests say public disclosure of the perpetrators is
essential to their healing. By keeping the names secret, they say perpetrators remain
protected. They also argue that parents and others should know if someone poses a
danger to their children.
In her Portland office Monday, Anderson said she was sensitive to victims' hope that the
names of offending priests be made public, but said she may be barred from doing it. "To
the extent that it can be done legally, I would like to see that it is done," she said. "We
will follow the law."
Anderson said the investigation of the allegations will take months and every charge will
be taken seriously. She said cases too old to prosecute will be investigated to see if they
lead to evidence of more recent crimes. Allegations against priests who are now dead
will be investigated to see if there was a criminal cover-up by people who concealed
evidence of crimes from police.
Anderson said that she is not aware of any case in the nation in which a church official
was prosecuted for hiding evidence of a crime committed by a priest. "Maine could be
the first," she said.
The church has turned over all allegations of abuse made by victims against living
priests. Anderson and Rowe met Friday with Monsignor Marc Caron, co-chancellor of
the Portland Diocese, to discuss other information the prosecutors wanted from the
church's personnel files.
Anderson said she asked for any record of hearsay allegations in addition to the ones
made by victims. She said she also asked for any record of allegations made against
priests who are now dead.
Even though she may not be able to release names, Anderson said the church is not under
the same legal restrictions. In February, the diocese released the names of two active
parish priests, the Revs. John Audibert and Michael Doucette, who had both admitted to
sexually abusing minors.
So far, however, church officials have not been willing to release the names of inactive
priests, even those removed from their parishes as a result of sex-abuse allegations.
Bishops in Boston and New Hampshire have released the names of all priests in their
dioceses who were accused of sexual abuse of minors, but other bishops have been less
forthcoming. The Diocese of Portland is standing by its policy of releasing names
through the prosecutor's office, spokeswoman Sue Bernard said.
"At this point in time, we don't have any plan to put out names where there are just
allegations and nothing more," Bernard said. "The stance we have taken so far is when
we can't substantiate a claim, we are not releasing names."
Anderson would not disclose how many allegations she received from the church, or
whether any seem likely to result in criminal charges.
She said it will take months to produce a report giving the public an accurate number of
priests and victims.
She said the numbers in the church's initial report would be misleading, because some of
the allegations were very old and based on rumor or hearsay and would not be part of a
final tally. She said she has also received allegations directly from victims who have not
gone through the church, which would be added to the list.
The Maine coordinator of SNAP, Survivors Network of People Abused by Priests, said
45 victims have contacted her, although in some cases the abuse took place in other
states. Cynthia Desrosiers said the callers, 17 women and 28 men, found her group
through its Internet site. Several report being abused by the same priests, she said.
Desrosiers has supported the prosecutors' efforts to bring offenders to justice, but said she
is disappointed that they will not publicly release the names of people who pose a threat
"I continue to maintain the opinion that the residents of the state of Maine deserve to
know where these pedophiles are," she said.
Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at:
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