Editor’s note: The Sun Journal does not publish the names of people accused of crimes if those accusations do not result in criminal charges. For that reason, no names released by the state’s Attorney General’s Office have been included in this article. The list of names is available through the Attorney General’s Office.

AUGUSTA – In 1952, a 10-year-old altar boy at a Lewiston church was sent to see a priest at the church.

According to documents released Friday by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, the priest took advantage of the boy.

He kissed him and had oral sex with him.

Soon it was happening two or three times a week in the church’s sacristy, according to the documents. Each time it happened, the priest paid the boy $5, telling him the money was payment for him not talking.

Years later, after the boy had grown, he told authorities of the abuse, saying that during the four years it was happening, there was no one he could tell since it was his parents who had sent him to the priest to talk about sex.

The allegation is one of dozens accusing a total of 21 Maine priests and brothers – now all dead – of sexually abusing children.

The documents are a compilation of statements from the Maine Roman Catholic diocese, letters from victims and reports from prosecutors, lawyers and the Attorney General’s Office.

None of the cases was ever proven in court because, by the time authorities learned of them, the statute of limitations prevented prosecution, said Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin. In the early ’90s, state lawmakers removed the statute of limitations for new sex abuse cases.

The documents were released Friday based on a Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling ordering the Attorney General’s Office to turn over the records, which included the names of the priests and brothers, and the churches where they served. Nine of them – eight priests and one brother – had been assigned to churches in central and western Maine.

The court also ordered that the names of the victims and their families not be released.

The ruling came after the Portland Press Herald asked the court for the documents, Robbin said.

The allegations came from throughout Maine – Fort Kent, Lewiston, Rumford, Portland, Bangor, Richmond and Biddeford – and involved priests from many schools and parishes: Reportedly, a girl was molested while a patient at Mercy Hospital in Portland; altar boys were abused in churches, rectories, camps and schools; girls were molested by priests in their own homes, sometimes with unsuspecting parents nearby.

Robbin said the collection of documents shows some patterns. One was that the priests involved were often trusted, close family friends. Another was that sexual abuse wasn’t well understood at the time.

“It’s pretty clear looking over the records that the response of the church has changed,” Robbin said. Legally, the church must now report any suspected sexual abuse, she said.

Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the Maine Roman Catholic diocese, said the church was opposed to the documents’ being released.

“We have a lot of concerns there are people on this list falsely accused,” she said, stressing that none of the cases was ever proven and that the priests accused “never had due process.”

Some cases, such as one priest who was accused of abusing 13 girls, are more credible than others, she said, but the information made public Friday lumps credible accusations with those that may not be credible, Bernard said.

When the diocese released its files to the Attorney General’s Office years ago, church officials were told the documents were for investigation purposes, that they were not to be made public, Bernard said. The recent court ruling makes those files public documents.

Maine Bishop Richard J. Malone said in a statement released Friday, “Today is a difficult day for so many people involved. I pray that this disclosure will provide a measure of peace for victims who were abused in the past and for their families. I am also concerned for the victims who have dealt with this pain in a quiet way, who have moved on with their lives and who have told us that they would prefer not to be reminded of their ordeal.”

Malone noted, “God forbid there are any priests listed who were falsely accused,” and added that he hopes people will “show some compassion for the dozens of wonderful priests ministering today in our diocese who must continue their mission under this horrible cloud.”

The leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said it’s important to publicly identify the dead priests and what they’re accused of in order to help the victims and all Catholics heal.

SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy, speaking from his St. Louis headquarters, said many survivors lead lonely, painful lives filled with self-doubt and shame. “It’s hard to recover from trauma if no one knows or acknowledges that the trauma ever happened,” Clohessy said. “It’s very healing to see their abusers identified as an abuser.”

He acknowledged that some Catholics may be saddened or may be angry to read about the disclosures. “But the Bible tells us the truth will set us free. We firmly believe the church cannot heal and learn from this tragedy unless records like this are made public.”

The old cases are reminders to parents that molesters are often charismatic, warm family friends, Clohessy said. All parents should talk to their children about sexual abuse and ask questions. Victims often stay silent unless they’re asked and assured they will be believed and supported, he said.

The stories told in the documents show that didn’t always happen.

A man reported to the Catholic diocese that in the 1950s, when he was 13 or 14, he was molested by a priest serving in Rumford. The man said his brother and other boys may have been as well. When he told his parents what happened, they punished him for lying about the priest, according to the records.

The most accusations – 13 – were lodged against a priest who served in Portland, South Portland and Lewiston from 1953 through 1972.

The priest was accused of molesting three girls in Lewiston, two of them only 6 years old. In one case, the parents reported that the priest played “big bad wolf,” pressing his body against the young girl’s. He hurt the girl when he pressed himself against her stomach, the reports read. The bishop warned the priest to stay away from the girl and to stop “playing games” with girls, the records indicate.

In another case, the same priest removed a first-grade girl and her brother from classes at St. Patrick School in Lewiston. He drove them to Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary and told the boy to pick strawberries. The boy returned to find his sister crying on the hood of the car with the priest kissing her. The priest told the boy to go back for more strawberries.

In a 2002 letter to the Attorney General’s Office, a woman wrote that she did not remember all that happened that day, but did remember later crouching under the dashboard of the priest’s car, then being told by the priest to get up and not be a baby when her mother came to the car for her, and then being examined by a doctor.

When she was 9, she had bad dreams and pills to help her sleep, she wrote. She’d wake up screaming about “large noses” trying to get her.

The priest died in 1990 at the age of 65.

Today when a credible allegation of sexual abuse is made, the priest is removed from the parish and a full-scale investigation is made by a review board, said diocese spokeswoman Bernard. “We have zero tolerance. And we make reports to the civil authorities.”

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