Gerry issues statistics on abuse cases

Portland Press Herald/February 13, 2004
By Gregory D. Kesich

Bishop Joseph Gerry has released statistics about sexual abuse by priests in Maine in a letter mailed to 82,000 homes around the state.

The numbers of abusers and victims, Gerry wrote, are "most disheartening."

But a full accounting, the bishop said, "will help shape solutions to the sexual abuse problem in our Church, and may also serve as a guide for addressing this problem in society."

The statistics were compiled as part of a national survey of the abuse scandal, commissioned by the nation's bishops and conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The bishops hope to restore trust in their leadership by opening themselves to greater scrutiny. The national report is due out Feb. 27.

An Associated Press review of reports already released showed that more than 1,300 clergy members have been accused of molesting minors. But more than half of the nation's 191 dioceses had yet to report.

According to Gerry's letter, mailed this month, allegations of sexual abuse were made against 41 priests in Maine between 1950 and 2002. Allegations against six were determined to be unfounded. Allegations against the other 35 were either true or could not be determined.

Of those priests, 15 are dead, 12 perform no ministry, seven have left the priesthood and one is "unidentified."

A total of 86 victims reported abuse during the 52-year period, the letters says. Since 1976, the church has paid $1.4 million in settlements and $1.3 million for victim's assistance and counseling.

Gerry reported that there were 1,050 priests in Maine during the 52-year period of the study. The number includes priests from religious orders and priests from other dioceses who were assigned to Maine, as well as diocesan priests.

The letter comes in Gerry's last days as the leader of Maine's Roman Catholics. He announced his resignation last year on his 75th birthday, in keeping with Catholic tradition. His replacement, Bishop Richard J. Malone, was named by the pope this week and will take Gerry's place on March 31.

In his letter, Gerry apologized to the abuse victims.

"I am profoundly sorry for the abuse you endured and the pain that lives on," Gerry wrote. "I realize no words can heal the anguish or restore the loss you experience. While no one can undo what happened to you, I pledge that the diocese will listen with sensitivity and provide emotional support for you in your recovery."

In 2002, Gerry gave 75 years of records associated with sexual abuse allegations to state prosecutors. At the time, Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said they involved 51 priests, including 33 who are still living.

Gerry's spokeswoman Sue Bernard said the bishop has never confirmed the accuracy of those statistics, but said a discrepancy could be expected because the two surveys looked at different time periods.

Gerry said the last known case of sexual abuse of a minor was in 1989.

That date does not cover some allegations against the Rev. Raymond Melville. Melville was personally ordered to pay $500,000 to a Kennebec County man who said he was abused by the priest over a seven-year period beginning in 1985, when he was 13.

Although the victim said his abuse continued until 1992, Bernard said Gerry's letter excluded the allegations of abuse that took place after the man turned 18.

The bishop's letter was met with skepticism by church critics, who question the way the statistics were compiled.

"It's all self-reporting. If the IRS conducted an audit like this, it would be a joke," said Paul Kendrick, co-founder of Maine's Voice of the Faithful chapter, a church reform group.

Kendrick said the numbers alone tell little, and he renewed his call for the bishop to release more information about the allegations and details of how the complaints were handled by the diocese.

In his letter, Gerry also apologized to Catholics who were not directly affected by abuse, but who suffered "embarrassment, shame and bitter disappointment" because of the actions of the abusive clergymen. "I'm sorry you had to endure this pain."

He also asked people to pray for the victims, and the offenders. "Healing prayer," he said, "is essential for both."

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