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

Bail was set at $50,000 cash. It was unclear where he would go if he were released since he hasn’t lived in Maine for many years, but his attorney, Walt McKee, called his client “penniless,” suggesting that bail was a long shot.

Talbot, dressed in a light brown prison uniform, did not speak.

He 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 in criminal case filings, 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.”

The Portland Press Herald does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent. The man, now 29, did not attend Friday’s court hearing.

Talbot is 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. However, 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 criminal 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, Michael Doherty, came forward in 1998 with allegations that 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, but his case encouraged others to come forward and led to future claims and charges against Talbot.

Doherty, along with several members of his family, were in the courtroom Friday during Talbot’s brief appearance. He said it was important for the unnamed victim in the criminal case to know he’s not alone.

Paul Kendrick, a longtime victim advocate from Freeport, also attended and had a brief altercation with Talbot’s attorney after the hearing. In the hallway outside the courtroom, Kendrick asked Walter McKee how he could represent the former priest when he represents victims of sexual abuse in other cases.

McKee said Kendrick then grabbed his arm, and that he warned Kendrick that he would have him arrested if he did it again.

Kendrick denied grabbing McKee’s arm and said he only questioned the attorney’s “moral code.”

Talbot already has criminal convictions in Massachusetts because that state’s statute of limitations clock stopped ticking when he moved out of the state in 1980. He was convicted of rape and assault with intent to rape in 2005 for abuse dating back to the 1970s 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.”

In court Friday, as Talbot was being led away by a bailiff, Kendrick shouted, “He was just a little boy Jim.”

Talbot did not respond.

After he left, Kendrick addressed the judge, Paul Eggert.

“He’s going to run judge,” he said.

“Not from jail,” Eggert replied.

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

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