Patricia Harkins Butkowski holds a photo of herself as a child during a news conference in March announcing her lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. She and more than a dozen others are asking a judge to resume the discovery process in their civil cases against the church. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Nearly 20 people suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland with decades-old claims of childhood sexual abuse are asking a judge to let their cases proceed despite a legal challenge that the diocese wants the state’s highest court to decide.

The cases have been paused since the diocese filed a challenge to the 2021 state law that removed the statute of limitations from civil child sex abuse claims. In their filings this week, the plaintiffs argue that their claims that the church tried to cover up their abuse are not subject to any statute of limitations and should not be put on hold.

Many of those suing the diocese filed affidavits supporting the motion to proceed toward trial.

Robert Dupuis, one of the first to sue the diocese following the law change, is one of several people who have alleged abuse by the Rev. John Curran at two different parishes from the 1960s through the 1970s.

He said that if his parents had known Curran had a track record of grooming and abuse, they would have been able to protect him.

“I believe that, had I and/or my parents been made aware of any of the foregoing, I and/or my parents would have taken actions to prevent me from being in direct contact with the defendant’s employees, including Curran, thereby extinguishing any opportunity for the abuse to occur,” Dupuis stated.


The diocese has argued that the new law is unconstitutional and that it opens up the church and other potential defendants to tens of millions of dollars in damages, putting them at a disadvantage in the courts because most evidence and witnesses will be hard if not impossible to access due to the amount of time that has passed.

After Superior Justice Thomas McKeon deemed the new law constitutional in February, the diocese filed a motion asking McKeon to forward the question to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The diocese’s attorney, Gerald Petruccelli, wrote that the state supreme court’s decision could have an impact far beyond the outcome of the 70 open cases currently pending against the church.

“There is substantial public interest in decision of these issues in these cases,” Petruccelli stated in the March 3 filing. “Not only will the Law Court’s decision determine the retroactivity of this enactment in many cases, but it will also be important controlling precedent in future disputes about the retroactivity of future laws.”

Justice Thomas McKeon is expected to rule soon on whether he will forward a constitutional challenge to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

But Michael Bigos, the attorney leading the cases against the diocese, argues that while the new law is what prompted his clients to come forward, they’re alleging more than just sexual abuse by specific diocese employees. Each of the claims he’s helped file alleges that the diocese was aware of credible allegations of abuse against priests and other employees, and instead of addressing the abuse, they relocated the clergy to different parishes and never warned parishioners.

That “fraudulent concealment” is not subject to a statute of limitations, Bigos said. In a motion filed Thursday, he wrote that pausing the cases in their entirety to answer one question hinders his ability to prove his clients’ claims of fraudulent concealment through the civil discovery process, during which the diocese must hand over all related evidence.

“Regardless of the constitutionality of the statute of limitations law, there is abundant evidence that the church knew abuse was happening and covered it up. The survivors urge the court to let these suits proceed,” Bigos said in a written statement Friday. “The diocesan cover-up may prevent their own appeal at this early stage.”


Bigos said he wants the discovery process to resume “so we can learn what the diocese knew and when.”

He also wrote that the plaintiffs continue to support the constitutionality of the new law.

There is no time frame for McKeon to make his decision.

If he denies the request, the diocese still would have the chance to appeal his ruling directly, potentially pausing the cases for even longer. If he sides with the diocese, and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court hears the case, the Maine Office of the Attorney General could step in and defend the law. The attorney general’s office said in January that it would evaluate the case if it reached that point. On Friday, a spokesperson for the office said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

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