Six men who claim they were sexually abused more than 35 years ago by a Roman Catholic priest at parishes in Maine where they were altar boys have sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
Copies of the complaints were provided Monday to the Portland Press Herald by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Mitchell Garabedian of Boston.
The six civil complaints were filed Nov. 23 in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland. Garabedian said Brett Baber of Bangor will serve as his clients’ local attorney.
In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs allege that they were abused by the Rev. James P. Vallely between 1958 and 1977. All the men were altar boys at the time and ranged in age from 8 to 15 when the abuse allegedly occurred.
The plaintiffs are now 46 to 65 years old.
“It takes a lot of courage for a victim to come forward, but by doing so they are empowering other victims and helping to protect other minors from abuse,” Garabedian said.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs are James Baker of Berwick, Shaun Baker of Eliot, Lawrence Gray of Scarborough, James Tremble of Windham, Paul Battis of Rochester, New Hampshire, and John Battis of Brooklyn, New York.
The Bakers are brothers, as are the Battises.
Vallely, who was born in Sanford, served in several Maine parishes beginning in 1952. He retired in 1988 and died on Dec. 12, 1997, at the age of 75.
Garabedian also provided the Press Herald with a copy of a letter suggesting that the church knew as early as 1956 that there were allegations of abuse against Vallely. The incidents allegedly took place at St. John’s Parish in Bangor, St. Dominic’s Parish in Portland and St. Michael’s Parish in South Berwick.
Gerald Petruccelli, who will represent the Portland diocese in the pending civil matters, declined to comment Monday.
Garabedian said he emailed copies of the complaints to Petruccelli on Tuesday morning.
Dave Guthro, spokesman for the diocese, said the matter is now the subject of legal proceedings and commenting on it would be inappropriate.
“As always, Bishop Deeley encourages anyone who may have information about any case of sexual abuse of a minor by a church representative to contact civil authorities and Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Diocese of Portland,” Guthro said in a written statement.
CHURC STILL LIABLE AFTER DECADES?
Bishop Robert P. Deeley said in a statement in April, when the existence of the letter was publicized by victim advocates, that “mistakes were made in the past and the failure to deal with this problem in a more forthright manner gravely harmed those who were abused. We do not want to forget. Remembering keeps us vigilant in our effort to reform. We cannot change the past, but we can do everything possible to see that history does not repeat itself.”
Garabedian, in a telephone interview Monday from his Boston office, argued that the church can still be held responsible for Vallely’s conduct because it willfully concealed it.
He said “fraudulent concealment” – the legal theory he cites as grounds for the case to go to court – is recognized in Maine as a cause of action, meaning that although the statute of limitations has expired, the concealment provision can reset the statute of limitations allowing the lawsuits to proceed.
“The diocese knew of sexual abuse by Father Vallely but did not warn the public,” he said.
Robert Hoatson, a former priest who is now a victim advocate with the New Jersey group Road to Recovery, said the church placed more children at risk by reassigning Vallely rather than removing him from the ministry.
SUITS SAY SUPERVISORS NEGLIGENT
Hoatson, interviewed Tuesday in front of the Diocese of Portland chancery, said he was removed from his priestly duties after he publicly called on the church in 2003 to remove bishops who covered up abuse.
Garabedian said he will argue that former Maine Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel J. Feeney, who served from 1955 until his death in 1969, was aware that Vallely had been abusing minors.
The civil complaints name the Roman Catholic bishop of Portland – namely, the diocese – as well as John Doe One and John Doe Two as defendants.
Garabedian said the diocese and the unnamed defendants were negligent in their role as Vallely’s supervisors. He said it will take more investigation by his staff before it can be determined who the John Doe defendants are. Their identities will be added to the complaints before the cases are brought before a jury.
The victims are seeking monetary damages, but specific amounts are not mentioned in the complaints.
“James Vallely was a serial pedophile,” Garabedian said. “He had no boundaries. The question remains: Why didn’t Bishop Feeney warn the public?”
Garabedian’s law firm has represented more than 1,000 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse, according to the firm’s website, and he played an important role in uncovering the breadth of the scandal in Massachusetts. Garabedian is portrayed by Stanley Tucci in “Spotlight,” the movie currently in theaters that tells the story of The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.