Priest will receive up to 7 years for abuse

Portland Press Herald/January 12, 2005
By Jen Fish

Boston -- A Jesuit priest who taught and coached at Cheverus High School in Portland faces as much as seven years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing boys he coached at Boston College High School in the 1970s. The Rev. James F. Talbot, 67, pleaded guilty Tuesday to rape, assault with intent to rape, and three counts of assault and battery. He will be sentenced Jan. 24.

The plea agreement says Talbot will spend five to seven years in a state prison and three years on probation, and will be required to register as a sexual offender and give the state of Massachusetts a DNA sample.

Tuesday's hearing marked the first time Talbot has publicly acknowledged his crimes. He was sued in 1998 by a former Cheverus student, Michael S. Doherty, who accused the priest of molesting him in 1984 and 1985.

The lawsuit was settled in 2001 for an undisclosed amount of money. Talbot, who had been fired from Cheverus in 1998, avoided criminal prosecution in Maine because the statue of limitations had expired.

When more allegations about Talbot surfaced, more lawsuits were filed on behalf of students in both Maine and Massachusetts.

Fourteen men, including two other former Cheverus students, eventually received a total of $5.2 million. One Maine man received $1.5 million, the largest settlement for a clergy abuse allegation in Maine.

On Tuesday, Doherty was in the courtroom, which was nearly filled with spectators and media. He said he was happy with the plea agreement and the fact that a criminal case ensures that Talbot, not the Roman Catholic Church or the Jesuit order or any of Talbot's superiors, will face the consequences of his actions.

"It was something, to see him have to sit up there and repeatedly admit what he did," Doherty said. "The fact that he is now going to pay for what he did is (a relief)."

He said it was "eerie" to hear Assistant District Attorney Audrey Mark describe Talbot's actions in Massachusetts.

"Obviously this was not my case, he was not on trial for what he did to me, but it was very similar," he said.

Mark described how Talbot conducted what he called "aggression" drills with his players, claiming the drills were part of their conditioning.

Talbot forced the boys to wrestle him, often wearing only athletic supporters. Those sessions sometimes led to private, nude wrestling bouts in the school's locker room. In some cases, Talbot provided beer to the boys during these sessions.

When asked by the judge if he admitted the sexual contacts described, Talbot answered "yes."

Doherty said he looks forward to seeing Talbot's sentencing, and hopes to meet other survivors of abuse.

Although it was satisfying to hear Talbot admit his guilt Tuesday, Doherty said, "it will be even more so when they take him away in handcuffs on the 24th."

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