Thursday, April 10, 2003
Group keeps focus on sexual abuse
By CHRIS CHURCHILL/Journal Tribune
David Gagnon was sexually abused by a priest at St. Andre’s Church in Biddeford 20 years ago. On Wednesday, he told his story to Saco’s Voice of the Faithful chapter.
Gagnon, now 38, said the abuse began when he was 15 and continued for four years. Fr. Michael Doucette – who admits now he sexually abused Gagnon, although he disagrees with Gagnon’s timeline – was a youthful and hip priest, a close friend of the family who seemed trustworthy.
“He was into music. I was into music. He was into photography. I was into photography,” Gagnon, who traveled to Saco from his home in Canada, said. “We had a lot in common. He seemed like a cool guy. It seemed natural that we should hang out.”
When their friendship unexpectedly turned sexual, Gagnon, self described as an unusually naive and devoutly religious 15-year-old, was bewildered. “I had no idea what was happening to me,” he said. “We were raised to respect priests, and this guy was a member of the family.”
The crowd of about 30 or so Voice of the Faithful members, sitting in Saco’s Most Holy Trinity Church, listened to Gagnon’s story in sorrowful silence. Some placed hands on their cheeks or shook their heads sadly.
Of course, members of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay group formed to lend support to sexual abuse victims and push for structural change in the church, are well aware of the abuse that occurred in parishes in Maine and across the nation.
But it’s one thing to know generally that abuse happened, and quite another to have a hometown kid standing in front of you telling a tragic story.
Ronald Drouin of Biddeford listened from the front row. Drouin admitted he has had trouble putting himself in victims’ shoes. “You came across and gave me that feeling,” he told Gagnon. “I was very upset by what you said today... it was very emotional for me.”
In 1991, Gagnon told his story to a much tougher audience: Bishop Joseph Gerry, head of the Diocese of Maine. Gagnon said he shook with nervousness and fear as told Gerry of his experience.
“I went expecting to see a kind, pastoral and compassionate response,” Gagnon said. “That is not at all what happened.”
Frustrated with the reaction, he threatened a lawsuit. Gagnon and the Diocese reached a financial settlement in 1992. Silence was a condition of the settlement – neither side will say how much money Gagnon received – but Gagnon hasn’t kept quiet.
“I’m not keeping their dirty little secret,” he said.
Gagnon no longer considers himself Catholic. In fact, he intended to personally deliver a letter announcing his “Act of Apostasy” to Bishop Gerry today, a move he says was forced by the church’s unkind response to victims.
“I would say I am probably still Christian,” Gagnon, who is considering becoming an Anglican, said, “because the values speak to me and the>