ELLSWORTH — An unnamed Oregon woman, “Jane Doe,” who lived in a Catholic orphanage in Massachusetts in the 1950s, has filed a federal civil suit against the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate alleging sexual abuse by priests during Oblate-run retreats in Bar Harbor and Bucksport when she was a young child.
The Missionary Oblates describe themselves as a congregation of Roman Catholic priests and brothers who serve the poor and needy in the U.S. and in 70 countries around the world. The Oblates did not respond to an email inquiry for comment before press time.
The Maine Legislature in June of 2021 lifted a statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse cases, which is allowing the case of “Jane Doe” and a dozen others to move through the Maine civil court system.
The lifting of the statute of limitations allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file suit against their accused no matter the age of the case.
Berman & Simmons attorney Michael Bigos represents a dozen such plaintiffs against four members of the clergy in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and one teacher/confirmation officer.
Bigos filed the first suit shortly after the statute of limitations was lifted in 2021.
“Each case outlines the abuse of power by priests against minors in Biddeford, Westbrook and Old Town,” Bigos wrote in a press release. “The assaults that form the basis for the complaints occurred in a variety of venues in Maine, including at churches, over decades, stemming from 1961 to the 2000s. The suits also demonstrate that the Maine diocese knew about rampant sexual abuse by its priests for decades and chose to not stop it.”
“Jane Doe” has filed her case in the U.S. District Court in Bangor. Other cases have been filed in Cumberland, Penobscot and York counties.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the Catholic Diocese in December filed a motion to dismiss both the Jane Doe case and the others on the grounds that the Legislature didn’t have the right to remove the statute of limitations, according to the Portland Press Herald. Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon will hear arguments on that matter in the Maine Business Court at the end of January.
Dave Guthro, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said the diocese does not comment on pending or possible litigation.
However, Guthro did outline action that the diocese has been taking to protect young people.
“Over the last 20 years, the Diocese of Portland has committed to raising awareness of the harm of sexual abuse, promoting the ways in which it can be prevented, and protecting young people as they come to learn of God and his love for them,” Guthro said. “Since the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, the Diocese of Portland has worked diligently to ensure a safe environment for all young people. Since 2002, over 16,000 Catholic Church employees, volunteers, priests and educators in Maine who work with children have been trained in a safe environment program.”
“In March, an independent audit of safe environment procedures found the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which includes all 141 churches in Maine, in full compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” Guthro said.
The national Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was approved by the U.S. Catholic Bishops in June 2002 and revised in June 2011 and June 2018.
“The mandates include permanently removing clergy who have sexually abused minors; reaching out to victims and their families with compassion; reporting allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities; investigating complaints of abuse in a thorough manner; implementing safe environment programs, which include abuse prevention training and awareness for all personnel and volunteers and completing background checks on all personnel,” Guthro said.
Guthro said the diocese takes any allegation of child sexual abuse seriously and prioritizes protecting children and providing healing for victims of abuse.
“As always, Bishop Deeley encourages anyone who may have information about any case of sexual abuse of a minor by a church representative to contact civil authorities and Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Diocese of Portland, at (207) 321-7836 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Guthro explained the church’s process for handling allegations of sexual abuse by a clergy member.
“In the case of an allegation of clergy sexual abuse, upon receipt of a complaint and in accordance with diocesan policy, an internal investigation is started, and civil authorities are notified,” Guthro said. “If the priest is active, he is placed on administrative leave. The announcement of the administrative leave and investigation is distributed to all parishes in the diocese, publicized on the diocesan website and social media platforms, and issued to media outlets throughout the state, encouraging people to come forward with relevant information.
“The internal investigation is conducted by the Diocese of Portland’s Office of Professional Responsibility,” the spokesperson said. “Findings of an internal investigation are presented to the Diocese of Portland’s Review Board, an independent body, which is comprised of business and community leaders in Maine who are selected for their demonstrated independence, fairness, and outstanding expertise in various fields, including psychiatry, law enforcement, and education. Then the decision of the review board is submitted to the bishop.”
In 2004, the Maine Attorney General’s Office investigated and released a report on its investigation of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the Diocese of Portland. The diocese voluntarily turned over its files dating back 75 years with the understanding that the information would be used to pursue any possible prosecution of individuals or diocesan administrators. The attorney general found at that time that the Diocese of Portland had not had an instance of a “substantiated new allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric since 1993,” Guthro said.