BOSTON — For Lawrence Gray, the abuse began slowly – a hand that lingered on a hip, an embrace that lasted too long. Then it became their secret together.

Until he was 12 years old, Gray was groomed and sexually abused by his family priest, the Rev. James Vallely, at Saint Dominic’s Parish in Portland’s West End. And for years, even after it stopped, he told nobody.

On Monday, after half a lifetime of silence followed by decades more looking for acknowledgment from the church, Gray and his attorney announced a $1.2 million settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland for the abuse he and five others endured.

“This was the kind of thing that just never saw the light of day no matter what,” the 68-year-old Scarborough resident said during a news conference. “So you learned to handle it yourself, whatever that might mean.”

The six plaintiffs are all victims of Vallely, a longtime priest in the Bangor area in the 1950s who went on to work in Portland and South Berwick. He is now deceased. The plaintiffs say they were abused between 1958 and 1977.

Although Gray came forward publicly in 1993, the statute of limitations on criminal charges had run out. Already in therapy and making an attempt to move forward in his life, Gray contacted Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian about a decade ago to add his story of abuse to the hundreds that Garabedian has heard while representing victims of pedophile priests. Gray was not sure that anything would come of it, until his case picked up speed last year.

Through another case Garabedian was litigating, the Portland diocese turned over a trove of documents related to Vallely. In it was a letter that would prove pivotal.

The two-page handwritten note, dated 2005, was sent by a former priest, Richard P. Rice, to the then-monsignor of the Portland diocese, Marc Caron. Rice wrote that he was aware of allegations against Vallely and that those allegations were brought to then-Bishop Daniel Feeney in the late 1950s, and that there were up to five boys who had said they were abused by Vallely when he was assigned to Saint John’s Parish in Bangor.

Instead of investigating, Feeney transferred Vallely, potentially putting more children at risk.

The six plaintiffs technically could not sue because the statute of limitations had run out. Garabedian, however, said last year that the letter demonstrates “fraudulent concealment,” which under law can reset that statute and allow lawsuits to proceed. He filed a suit in January on behalf of Gray, James Baker of Berwick, Shaun Baker of Eliot, James Tremble of Windham, Paul Battis of Rochester, New Hampshire, and John Battis of Brooklyn, New York. None of the other victims attended the news conference Monday.

Garabedian is perhaps the most well-known lawyer representing victims of clergy abuse. Stanley Tucci portrayed him in last year’s Academy Award-winning movie “Spotlight,” which detailed the Boston Globe’s efforts to uncover widespread abuse within the Catholic Church and attempts to keep it hidden. The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage.

Diocese spokesman Dave Guthro issued a statement in response to Monday’s announcement.

“The diocese hopes that this settlement brings a measure of peace to the people involved,” he said. “The diocese respects the privacy and confidentiality of the victims/survivors involved in cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics. We maintain that privacy and confidentiality even if an individual or their legal representation chooses to discuss their situation publicly.”

Garabedian said the Portland diocese, which oversees all Catholic parishes in Maine, had knowledge of multiple accusations of abuse against Vallely but did not remove him from the ministry. He said Gray’s case illustrates how the Portland diocese has taken steps to obscure the truth or lie to the public to protect its interests.

Prior to Garabedian obtaining the letter showing the diocese knew of Vallely’s abuse in the 1950s, Portland church officials had said the earliest they knew of any allegations of abuse was 1978.

“We have another instance of the diocese hiding the truth for the sake of its appearance and monetary concerns,” Garabedian said.

After Gray came forward in 1993, he said the church offered him a $10,000 settlement that also came with a gag order, but he turned them down.

Now a chiropractor in Massachusetts, Gray said it took him years to confront the pain of what had happened to him as a child, and that he is glad to have a public acknowledgment from the church of Vallely’s misconduct.

“I’m actually very grateful for my life, as silly as it sounds,” Gray said. “Maybe we didn’t slay the dragon, but we knocked a couple of scales off.”

Garabedian said he knows of eight victims of Vallely who have come forward – seven men and one woman.

Vallely, a Sanford native, was ordained in Massachusetts in 1949 and served in parishes in many Maine communities starting in 1952. He died on Dec. 12, 1997, at the age of 75 at his winter home in Sun City, Florida.

Guthro said Bishop Robert Deeley encourages anyone who may have information about any case of sexual abuse of a minor by any church representative to contact civil authorities as well as Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Diocese of Portland, at 321-7836 or by email at: [email protected]

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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