PORTLAND, Maine (ChurchMilitant.com) - While the bishop of Buffalo, New York allows credibly accused priests to remain in active ministry, his history in another diocese reveals a pattern of cover-ups.
Bishop Richard Malone of the Buffalo diocese has been under pressure from laity and the media due to his apparent tolerance of sexually abusive priests in active ministry. In a press conference last week, he invited reporters to look at his past experience in the diocese of Portland, Maine. The diocese covers the entire state of Maine.
The investigative team at WKBW, a news channel in Buffalo, did exactly that. Charlie Specht and his team obtained documents from the Portland diocese and spoke with abuse victim advocates.
What they uncovered was a very different narrative from what Bp. Malone suggests. They found two cases where Bp. Malone provided cover for sexual predation.
Last week, Church Militant encountered Bp. Malone in an airport on the way back from the U.S. bishops' meeting in Baltimore. Michael Voris asked Malone about accused priests who remain in active ministry, as a diocesan official tried to block Voris from speaking to the bishop.
Paul T. Kendrick, an outspoken advocate for victims of Catholic clerical sexual abuse in Maine, told WKBW, "The Bishop Malone that I came to know here in Maine ... is an actor on a stage."
"Malone is a fake, a phony," Kendrick continued. He's not telling the truth when he likes to say, 'I never knew.'"
In 2008, Bp. Malone banned Kendrick from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and threatened to ban him from Holy Communion in the diocese. Kendrick received a criminal trespass order after announcing plans to confront Malone at the cathedral Christmas Eve, as well as a cease and desist letter for frequently contacting the bishop and even following him to out-of-state meetings.
John S. Brennan, a permanent deacon and former director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Portland diocese, shared documents with WKBW about two egregious cases where Bp. Malone failed at acting against sex abuse.
He wrote in one of the documents from his time working for the diocese, "With respect to the Vatican and Bp. Malone, this was a complete cover-up of the highest order that cannot possibly be explained or defended and still screams out for justice."
One of the cases is that of Fr. Paul E. Coughlin, a parish priest in Maine whom, in 2004, had a known pederast living with him in the rectory.
The man in question, John Skinner Sr., was indicted earlier that year for sexually abusing two teenage boys repeatedly between 1990 and 1994. Skinner met his victims by volunteering as an adult supervisor at a Catholic youth group in a different parish.
In July 2004, Skinner was indicted by the Penobscot County grand jury for sexual crimes, and his arraignment was scheduled for late August. It was early August when the diocese found out he was living with Fr. Coughlin at the rectory and removed Fr. Coughlin from active ministry.
The diocese found that Fr. Coughlin had a long-time association with Skinner and that, during the 90s, Skinner had introduced Fr. Coughlin to a 15-year-old boy he had raped but Coughlin failed to call police about it.
Skinner would be found guilty and sentenced to 18 years in prison. But Skinner managed to get out early, leaving prison on probation in 2010.
Police informed the diocese of Skinner's whereabouts, and Brennan investigated. One report from the time said Fr. Coughlin was not violating law by housing the accused predator, but did violate diocesan policies — for starters, no one except a diocesan employee is allowed to live with a priest at a rectory.
The files that Brennan shared with WKBW refer to Fr. Coughlin meeting Skinner's victim but not reporting and Fr. Coughlin's housing of Skinner after the indictment for sex abuse as "outrageous."
Brennan's documents also showed weak responses to the scandal from both the Vatican and the diocese. The Vatican simply gave Bp. Malone the go-ahead to remove Fr. Coughlin from active ministry, which he did. Two years later, Malone secretly returned Coughlin to ministry, but soon reversed this decision after outrage from his own chancery staff.
Brennan showed WKBW the documents from another egregious case in the Portland diocese: the acquittal of accused pedophile Fr. Thomas M. Lee. In the early 2000s, Brennan spoke to 10 adults who claimed they had been victims of child sex abuse at the hands of Fr. Lee. The priest was accused of taking children on camping trips where he took nude photos of them and touched them sexually.
The deacon composed a 60-page document with his findings, and a diocesan review board found the allegations credible. In 2003, Fr. Lee was removed from ministry.
In March 2004, Bp. Joseph Gerry of Portland, Maine forwarded the case to the Vatican and requested that a special tribunal be created to hear the case. Later that year, Malone became head of the Portland diocese.
The Vatican granted that request in 2006. The three priests appointed to the tribunal heard the case in 2007. In 2008, they announced their ruling: Fr. Lee, they claimed, was essentially innocent.
The tribunal said it believed that Fr. Lee's actions were "imprudent, but none of them were sinful in any respect."
Malone appealed to the Vatican to have the tribunal reconsider the case. The Vatican gave the okay, but the tribunal again found Fr. Lee innocent.
In both tribunal proceedings, Brennan was blocked from presenting his 60-page investigative report. He was also ordered not to contact Fr. Lee's victims about them testifying to the tribunal.
WKBW asked Fr. Thomas Doyle — a priest in the Dominican Order and a canon lawyer — for his thoughts on the Fr. Lee case. Doyle said, "My conclusion, based on what I read, is that the entire canonical process is completely invalid."
"It appeared that the thing was rigged," he opined. "The whole trial is a farce. They shouldn't have even have held one."
The canonist also told WKBW that Bp. Malone was wrong to say there was nothing more he could do, arguing that "there's certainly more that he could do," such as hiring an outside investigator.
After the tribunal upheld its decision calling Fr. Lee innocent, Brennan wanted Malone to do more, but the bishop hesitated. His notes on the case state, "When I complained to Bp. Malone that this was yet another extraordinary cover-up by the Vatican of child sexual abuse by a member of the Catholic priesthood, he indicated that there was nothing more that he could do."
Malone asked Fr. Lee to resign, which the priest did. But Fr. Lee was not entirely out of the public eye. In May this year, there was a Mass at Good Shepherd parish honoring the 65th anniversary of Fr. Lee's ordination to the priesthood — this mentioned in a parish bulletin dated June 3.