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Updated December 3, 2017
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Former Maine priest pleads not guilty to sex assault charges

A former Jesuit priest and longtime Cheverus High School teacher pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that he sexually abused a 9-year-old boy at a Freeport church nearly 20 years ago.

James Francis Talbot, 80, has been held at Cumberland County Jail in Portland since Wednesday, when he was extradited from Missouri. He appeared Friday in Unified Criminal Court in Portland.

Bail has been set at $50,000 cash, which his lawyer acknowledged will be difficult for him to post. It also was unclear where he would go if he is released since he hasn’t lived in Maine for many years.

Talbot has been charged with one count of gross sexual assault, a Class A felony, and one count of unlawful sexual contact, a Class C crime. Both involve a victim whose family were members of St. Jude Church in the late 1990s when Talbot was a substitute priest and religious instructor. If convicted, the Class A charge carries a penalty of as many as 25 years in prison.

Although details about the abuse have not made public, two people involved in the case have confirmed to the Portland Press Herald that Talbot settled a civil case with the same victim this summer.

In that case, the victim said in an affidavit that Talbot befriended his family and offered religious instruction to him when he was a boy. 

“Not only did I see (Father) Talbot as an adult, but he was a priest in complete control of me and whether I could proceed with my first communion and confirmation. I believed at the time I had to do whatever he ask (sic) me to do,” the affidavit read.

During religious instruction, the alleged victim said, “(Father) Talbot would come down and remove me from the class of other children and take me upstairs to a room where he sexually abused me. He told me not to tell anyone what had happened and that it was okay.”

Talbot is now one of two former priests facing criminal charges in Maine for past sexual assault or abuse involving children. The other is Ronald Paquin, who faces 31 counts of sexual abuse in York County for crimes allegedly committed when he brought boys from Massachusetts to Maine in the late 1980s.

Since the Boston Globe uncovered the Catholic Church abuse scandal, several Maine priests have been accused and many have disciplined, removed from the priesthood and have settled civil suits with victims. Criminal cases against former priests in Maine are rare, if not unprecedented, because victims typically have not come forward until more than a decade after the abuse and too late for ciminal charges.

The statute of limitations for such crimes against children younger than 16 was eliminated in 1999 – as long as the statute of limitations had not already expired. The Maine Attorney General at the time said sex crimes committed against children after 1987 could be prosecuted at any time in the future.

That opened the door to the charges against Talbot and Paquin. 

Talbot has a lengthy history of alleged child sexual abuse dating back to the 1970s when he was a teacher at Boston College High School, and continuing while at Cheverus from 1980 to 1998. The new criminal charges stem from his service as a visiting priest in Freeport while he worked at Cheverus.

He has settled civil lawsuits with at least 15 victims, including three from Maine. One of the victims, Micheal Doherty, came forward in 1998 with allegations, not long after Talbot’s suspected abuse of the victim in the latest case. Doherty said Talbot abused him back in the mid-1980s when he was a student at Cheverus. The abuse happened both at the school and at the rectory of Sacred Heart Church in Yarmouth. Talbot was fired from Cheverus about two months after the allegations were brought to the bishop.

Doherty settled his lawsuit in 2001. Criminal charges were never brought because the statute of limitations at the time has lapsed.

Massachusetts, which allows criminal charges going back farther, charged Talbot with rape and assault with intent to rape during the 1970s while teaching in Boston. He was convicted in 2005 and spent six years in prison. Upon his release, he was sent to the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Missouri, which provides housing and counseling to priests and former priests, including many who have been suspected or convicted of sexual abuse.

Responding to the latest allegations involving Talbot, the Portland diocese renewed its call for anyone to come forward with suspicion of abuse if they have it.

“(Bishop Robert Deeley) hopes any victim/survivor will feel free to come forward and speak about their painful experiences, particularly if they have not already done so,” diocese spokesman Dave Guthro said. “The diocese will diligently work to receive them in a manner that protects their dignity. We want, if at all possible, to assist anyone who has been harmed to be in a healing process.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

Former Jesuit priest James Francis Talbot confers with defense attorney Walter McKee after pleading not guilty to charges that he sexually abused a 9-year-old boy at a Freeport church nearly 20 years ago. (Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald)

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