The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has upheld a ruling in favor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in the case of an Augusta man who alleges he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a child, and that the church did not disclose that the priest was accused of abusing other children.
William Picher of Augusta accused the Rev. Raymond Melville of molesting him while he was a student at St. Mary’s School, from September 1986 to June 1988, while Melville was serving his initial assignment as assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in Augusta.
Picher filed his complaint against the diocese in 2007, saying it covered up knowledge of earlier abuse complaints against Melville that came to light after Picher was abused.
A Superior Court judge had ruled in favor of the diocese in August 2012, saying it was not obligated to reveal the other abuse claims because Picher did not file his own complaint until years later. The Supreme Judicial Court, in its unanimous decision issued on Tuesday, denied Picher’s appeal of the lower court judge’s ruling.
“The information of which the diocese may have been aware, which disclosed no prior sexual abuse by Melville, is not the type of information that triggers a duty to disclose,” the Supreme Judicial Court said in its 6-0 decision.
Picher’s claim that the church fraudulently concealed Melville’s alleged abuse of other children hinged on abuse claims brought against Melville over the years.
In 1990, a Maryland man wrote that he had been “emotionally, sexually and physically abused” as a teenager by Melville from 1980 to 1985, when Melville was a seminarian studying to be a priest in Baltimore.
In a separate case, Michael Fortin of Sidney said he was abused by Melville for seven years beginning in 1985, when Fortin was 13 and Melville was his parish priest in Augusta. Fortin was awarded $500,000 in damages against Melville and settled with the church for an undisclosed amount.
In Fortin’s case, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2005 that the protections of church leaders are limited when weighed against the welfare of children.
Picher’s case against the diocese never went to trial, but he did win a separate suit brought against Melville personally. Melville, now 71, defaulted after failing to respond to Picher’s 2007 court complaint and was ordered to pay Picher $4.2 million in damages.
Picher’s attorney, Sumner Lipman of Augusta, has said his client collected some of that money, but he would not say how much. Melville was last known to be living in North Carolina, Lipman has said previously.
The diocese has said that Melville was granted a leave of absence from active ministry in 1997 at his request.
Picher’s case differs from other cases concerning sexual abuse by clergy members in Maine, such as those that followed the diocese’s disclosure in 2005 of the identities of eight deceased priests who had been accused of abusing children over the course of decades.
Those victims have a public record that the diocese covered up abuse. In Picher’s case, “the diocese still has not announced that this priest was a pedophile,” Lipman said in June when Picher’s appeal was heard before the Supreme Judicial Court.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: