Diocese of Portland Sued in Decades-Old Abuse Case

News: Crisis in the Church
by Church Militant  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 7, 2016   

Six men claim bishop worked to cover up abusive priest

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PORTLAND, Maine (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Portland, Maine is being sued over allegations that a former bishop covered up a sex abuse scandal.

In seperate civil complaints filed in November, six men claim they were sexually abused by Fr. James Vallely, a Portland diocesen priest, between 1958 and 1977 and that the bishop worked to protect the abusive pastor.

The victims, who were between the ages of 8 and 15 at the time, allege the abuse occured in three different parishes while they served as altar boys of the respective churches.

According to four of the victims, the abuse occured while Fr. Vallely was a priest at St. Michael Catholic Church in South Berwick; a fifth claims he was sexually abused by Vallely in Portland's St. Dominic Catholic Church; the last asserts Vallely molested him while acting as visiting pastor at St. John Catholic Church in Bangor in 1969.

Vallely retired in 1988 and passed away in 1997, at age 75.

"It takes a lot of courage for a victim to come forward, but by doing so they are empowering other victims and helping to protect other minors from abuse," says the victims' attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who handled the homosexual priest abuse scandal in Boston in 2002.

The court documents list the plaintiffs, which includes two sets of brothers, as James Baker of Berwick, Shaun Baker of Eliot, Lawrence Gray of Scarborough, James Tremble of Windham, Paul Battis of Rochester, New Hampshire, and John Battis of Brooklyn, New York.

The lawsuit mentions a 2005 letter that reportedly confirms that then-Portland bishop Daniel J. Feeney was made aware of the molestations as early as 1956. The letter is addressed to one believed to be Rev. Marc Caron, co-chancellor of the diocese in 2005, and discusses a conversation between the letter's signatory, Rev. Richard P. Rice, and the Rev. Richard Harvey, now deceased. Harvey, who served as pastor of St. John Catholic Church in Bangor from 1951 to 1967, revealed to Rice a conversation he'd had with Bp. Daniel Feeney, who led the diocese of Portland during the time of the alleged abuse cases.

According to the letter, "[T]here were 1, 2, 3, 4, no, 5 boys who had confided to [Harvey] of their abuse at St. John's. He then told me, when Bp. Feeney arrived for confirmation, [Harvey] asked him to walk with him on York Street and told him about this. Within a very brief time, Jim Vallely was transferred."

The transfer from St. John's in Bangor occurred in 1956, according to Garabedian.

"I write this to you," concludes Rice in the letter, "so that if any young men from St. John's at that period were in touch with the Diocese, this conversation with [Fr. Richard] Harvey might help validate their truthfulness and need."

"James Vallely was a serial pedophile," Garabedian maintains. "He had no boundaries."

According to the attorney, Maine's fraudulent concealment law permits the victims to sue despite the statute of limitations having run out, as the recent concealment of the letter essentially resets the statute.

"The diocese knew of sexual abuse by Fr. Vallely but did not warn the public," he asserts.

The Portland diocesan spokesman has stated that a comment on the legal proceedings would be innapropriate.

However, in a written statement the diocese assured, "As always, Bp. Deeley [current bishop of Portland] encourages anyone who may have information about any case of sexual abuse of a minor by a Church representative to contact civil authorities and Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Diocese of Portland."

The victims are seeking unspecified monetary damages.

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