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Three men have sued the head of Maine’s Roman Catholic diocese in three different counties, saying that four priests and a lay teacher abused them years ago in a variety of venues, including at churches.
The men have filed the lawsuits against Bishop Robert Deeley, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, following a law change that took effect last October lifting the statute of limitations on such legal claims.
The suits are believed to be the first such legal claims filed in Maine courts since the law change, which legislators passed and Gov. Janet Mills signed last year.
Before that, these abuse survivors had no legal path to hold the church and clergy accountable or to seek justice, according to their legal team. Prior law effectively prevented people whom clergy abused as children prior to the mid- to late 1980s from suing their abusers and the organizations for which they worked.
Dave Guthro, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, declined to comment on the pending litigation. The diocese includes the entire state.
The cases were filed in superior courts in York, Cumberland and Penobscot counties this week because the alleged abuse took place in Biddeford, Westbrook and Old Town.
The men are seeking unspecified damages.
The assaults that form the basis for the complaints occurred in a variety of venues, including at churches, over decades, spanning from 1961 to the 2000s, according to lawyer Michael Bigos of Lewiston. The suits also demonstrate that the Maine diocese knew about rampant sexual abuse by its priests for decades and chose not to stop it, he said.
The complaints allege that four Catholic priests and one lay catechism teacher perpetrated the abuse.
Just one of the plaintiffs, Robert Dupuis, now 73 and a resident of East Lyme, Connecticut, agreed to be named publicly.
Dupuis first went public with the abuse he experienced in 2008 when he urged the Augusta City Council to support removing his alleged abuser’s name from a downtown bridge, which the Legislature did the following year.
“There are many survivors like myself who were abused in childhood by the clergy,” Dupuis said Thursday. “I struggled with my mental health for decades after the abuse, living a life of dysfunction and mistrust. The lawsuit gives me the opportunity to come forward and tell my story and by doing so to encourage other survivors to come forward. It’s time for the church to stop minimizing the effects of sexual abuse on its victims and take full accountability for their negligence and malice.”
The Most Rev. Richard Malone, then bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, acknowledged the Rev. John J. Curran’s abuse and endorsed removing the priest’s name as well.
Another plaintiff is a 56-year-old York man, who claims he was sexually abused by the Rev. Ronald Michaud in the 1980s when he was a teenager at St. Andre’s Catholic Church in Biddeford. Michaud was subsequently moved to St. Hyacinth Catholic Church in Westbrook.
In 2007, a different victim of Michaud’s abuse won $3.46 million in compensatory damages and an additional $1 million in punitive damages in Kennebec County Superior Court, according to that complaint.
The third plaintiff is a different York man, now 54, who claims that he was groomed by a male catechism teacher, Rene J. Daniel, and abused by two priests, John E. Harris and John L. Shorty, who left the ministry in 2003 and 1994, respectively.
Both men have been laicized by the Vatican, so they can no longer function as priests. The man claims that he was in his early teens and living in Westbrook in the early to mid-1980s when he says the abuse took place.
The plaintiffs said in their complaints that they have suffered severe and debilitating emotional injury, pain and suffering, physical and emotional trauma, and permanent psychological damage as a result of the sexual abuse.