PORTLAND – Two major developments related to the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal in Maine are right around the corner, and it’s unclear whether they’ll provide the story’s postscript or the first words in a new chapter.
Bishop Joseph Gerry of the Portland Diocese will turn 75 and submit his resignation to the Vatican on Sept. 12. Also expected next month is the attorney general’s report on abuse allegations against 51 clergy members.
A national victims’ advocate is concerned that the scandal may again recede from public consciousness following the report’s release.
“I worry that there’s going to be this kind of premature complacency that’s going to set in,” David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Monday. “The attorney general’s report from our standpoint ought to be a catalyst, a starting point.”
Clohessy spoke two days after the alleged strangling and beating death of defrocked priest John Geoghan in a Massachusetts prison. The notorious pedophile’s legacy helped raise public awareness about priest abuse, Clohessy said.
But momentum in uncovering past abuses will be lost if victims feel there’s nothing to gain from coming forward, so it’s important that the names of priests accused of abuse in Maine be released, he told The Associated Press.
“I worry about victims feeling like, ‘What’s the use?”‘ he said. “And if victims feel hopeless, victims don’t come forward.”
Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe has offered few clues about what he’ll reveal at the end of an 18-month probe.
In May 2002 the Portland Diocese turned over 75 years of personnel records that implicate 33 living and 18 dead clergy members. None of the living priests are currently assigned to parishes, according to diocese officials.
Kennebec County District Attorney Evert Fowle said Monday he expects Rowe’s report to be released in late September.
Regardless of what the attorney general makes public, Clohessy said, the bishop’s impending retirement increases his obligation to release the names of those accused.
“His secrecy around the names of the perpetrators has been really, really troubling,” Clohessy said. “There are 33 known or suspected child molesters that the bishop discloses no information about.”
Releasing the accused priests’ names would protect children from future abuse and aid victims’ healing, Clohessy said.
It also would be a big step in reforming a flawed church system, said Paul Kendrick of the Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful. “Until we know what the problem is, we can’t fix it,” he said.
But state officials have expressed concerns about violating the privacy of those accused but not charged.
Sue Bernard, a diocese spokeswoman, declined to speculate about whether Gerry might identify the priests if Rowe’s report does not. “We’re going to see the report and decide if anything needs to be done after that,” she said.
Clohessy met with Voice of the Faithful members at a Falmouth pizza parlor Sunday because the group is barred from meeting on most church property in Maine. He still hopes the attorney general’s probe will lead to criminal prosecutions, but admitted that appears unlikely given the number of years that have passed since most of the alleged abuse.
As for Geoghan, Clohessy said pedophile priests should receive the best protection while serving their prison sentences. But he maintained that prison is where those abusers belong.
“A child molester may be at risk in prison, but innocent kids are definitely at risk when molesters aren’t in prison,” he said.
Clohessy said survivors of priest sexual abuse were stunned by Geoghan’s death. No one, he said, wanted to see that happen.
“What happened was horrible. No one, no matter how much devastation they caused, deserves to be murdered,” he said.