New report details Portland Diocese´s handling of claims

Portland Press Herald/February 12, 2004
By David Sharp

Portland, Maine -- A report prepared as part of a nationwide accounting of sexual abuse claims and costs by the Roman Catholic Church shed new light Thursday on the Portland Diocese´s handling of those claims.

Abuse claims were made by 86 victims since 1950 _ the period covered by the report _ and $2.6 million was spent on claims since the diocese began keeping detailed financial records in 1976, according to the report.

All told, $1.35 million was spent to settle abuse claims, and another $1.25 million was spent for victims´ assistance and counseling and legal expenses. All but $200,000 of that was paid by insurance, the report said.

The report said there had been allegations against 41 priests during a 52-year review from 1950 to the end of 2001. Six of those allegations were unfounded; the others were either founded or undetermined.

Earlier, a state prosecutor announced there were 51 priests accused of abuse in a review of church records dating back 75 years in Maine.

Outgoing Bishop Joseph Gerry told the state´s 234,000 Catholics that there had been no substantiated case of abuse of a minor since 1989.

He encouraged parishioners to report any allegations to church officials or law enforcement authorities, and he repeated his apologies to those who were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy members.

"To all of the survivors, I am profoundly sorry for the abuse you endured and the pain that lives on," the bishop wrote in an open letter mailed to 82,000 Catholic households across the state. "I realize no words can heal the anguish or restore the loss you experience."

The data is part of a first-of-its-kind national survey the bishops commissioned from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

By opening themselves up to greater scrutiny, the bishops hope to restore trust in their leadership following waves of scandal over abusive priests. The national report is due out Feb. 27.

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

In Maine, there were 1,050 priests who served from 1950 to 2001, according to the report, meaning that roughly 4 percent had abuse allegations made against them.

Gerry, who is retiring at age 75, said the statistics were disheartening but he said the church was determined to learn from its mistakes.

"As a diocese, we must not forget the past but learn from it and build a safer future for our young people," said Gerry, who pledged that those known to have abused a minor will not be allowed to continue in the ministry.

Gerry will continue to serve until March 31, when Boston Auxiliary Bishop Richard Malone will be installed as the diocese´s 11th bishop at a Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Gerry, a Millinocket native, has faced criticism for his handling of sex abuse cases after the scandal erupted in Boston.

The criticism continued Thursday as a spokesman for the Voice of the Faithful chastised him over his continued refusal to release the names of the accused priests and the parishes in which they served.

Michael Sweatt also said he was disturbed that the magnitude of the payouts by the church did not raise flags for diocese staff and finance committee members, in addition to the diocese leadership.

"I think this report with the data is very devastating for Catholics and non-Catholics alike," he said.

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