This is from my homestate, Maine....
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Priest ordered to pay victim
By GREGORY D. KESICH, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
A judge ordered a former Augusta priest to pay $500,000 to a Kennebec County man who said he was sexually molested by the priest as a child.
Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup found in favor of Michael Fortin, who said he was abused by the Rev. Raymond Melville over a seven-year period beginning in 1985, when Fortin was 13. Melville, who had been a priest in Augusta, Rumford, Lewiston and Machias, did not contest the charges and agreed to the judgment.
The ruling ends Fortin's case against Melville and renews his claim against Bishop Joseph Gerry, who allowed Melville to practice as a priest even after another man reported in 1990 that Melville had sexually molested him a decade before.
Fortin's lawyer said he plans to appeal an earlier ruling in the case that dismissed Gerry and the Roman Catholic Church as defendants on religious freedom grounds. The appeal, said Sumner Lipman of Augusta, will challenge Maine's legal doctrine, which protects the bishop from lawsuits arising from a priest's misconduct.
"We feel that policy needs to be reviewed in light of what's going on in the world and the facts of this case," Lipman said.
In the meantime, Lipman said Fortin will attempt to collect from Melville. It is unknown whether Melville, who spent most of his adult life as a modestly paid clergyman, has enough assets to pay the judgment.
Melville, who is still technically a priest but has not been allowed to have an active ministry since 1997, was last known to be living in Machias. He has no listed telephone number and could not be reached for comment.
His lawyer, John Whitman of Portland, said he had to check with his client before he could answer any questions about the case.
Whitman called back and said: "I have no comment on the questions you asked or any questions you might ask."
Lipman said Melville's refusals to face the charges in court amount to an admission that they are true.
"It was an acknowledgement that he doesn't want to face a jury trial and he doesn't want to see his accusers," Lipman said.
Fortin informed the diocese in 2000 that he planned to sue the bishop for the abuse by Melville, which began when Fortin was a parishioner of St. Mary's Church in Augusta.
Melville, Fortin said, ingratiated himself to his family and became a regular guest at his parents' house.
"He became like an adopted son, sharing in Christmas celebrations and other family events, while he discreetly abused me," Fortin said at a 2002 press conference. "I was shamed into silence. I thought I had done something wrong."
In a letter dated March 12, 1990, a Maryland man wrote Gerry to report that he had been "emotionally, sexually and physically abused" by Melville as a teenager when Melville was a seminary student in the early 1980s. "The possible tragedy of another young boy being a victim compels me to write this letter," the man wrote.
Although Gerry wrote back to say he would "address the matter vigorously and expeditiously," Fortin said his abuse continued for two more years.
Melville, who had been assigned to a parish in Rumford before Gerry got the letter, was evaluated and then reassigned to churches in Lewiston and Machias.
The suit against Melville was the only active civil suit charging a Roman Catholic clergy member in Maine with sex abuse, although many similar allegations have surfaced in recent years.
In 2002, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland turned over records to prosecutors of abuse allegations made against 51 clergy members over seven decades. The files reportedly included allegations against 33 who were still living.
But unlike Boston and other jurisdictions around the country, none of the recent Maine allegations has resulted in a lawsuit, in part because of a 1996 state Supreme Court decision that makes the relationship between a bishop and a priest off-limits to the civil courts.
The church expects to keep fighting for that protection, said Gerry's lawyer, Frederick Moore.
"The bishop and the church are very, very sorry about what happened (to Fortin). Sexual abuse is absolutely contrary to what Jesus thought and stood for," Moore said. "(But) the plaintiff here is seeking to impose liability where even a secular employer would not be held responsible."
Fortin's suit asserts that a priest is "on duty" 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Moore said a bishop should not be expected to supervise a priest, who may live hundreds of miles away, in his off hours.
"Priests go fishing, they go to the movies, they go out to dinner," Moore said. "They have private lives."
More importantly, Moore said, clergy members are governed by religious practices that should not be examined by the government. Even looking at how a priest is hired and supervised intrudes on the religious freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. and Maine constitutions, he said.
"The very act of inquiry gets into the spiritual relationship between a bishop and a priest," he said.
After Fortin files a notice of appeal, the Supreme Court will set a schedule for the two sides to file briefs. The case will then be argued before the justices.
Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org