Catholic bishop sets day of prayer and penance for abuse victims

Posted March 26, 2011, at 1:50 p.m.
Last modified March 27, 2011, at 4:15 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Bishop Richard J. Malone, head of the Roman Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, designated Tuesday as a day of prayer and penance for “harm done to survivors and the faithful by past incidents of clergy sexual abuse.”

Malone will celebrate Mass at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate conception in Portland. The section during the service called “Prayers of the Faithful” will reflect the intention of the Mass, according to a press release issued by the diocese last week.

“Each year, I ask the clergy to join me in marking a day of atonement for past offenses,” the bishop said in the press release issued Wednesday. “Through prayer and reflection, may we become even more dedicated to healing the wounds of the past and preventing harm in the future.”

Malone has encouraged all priests in Maine to have a special intention for survivors of abuse at Masses celebrated Tuesday.

Pastors and administrators at parishes throughout the state have been urged to consider having their churches open for a few hours and to invite the faithful to join in prayer, fasting and acts of penance, according to Sue Bernard, diocesan spokeswoman.

The special Mass comes one month after a retired priest who oversaw the $2 million renovation of St. John Catholic Church in Bangor between 1986 and 1991 was reinstated to public ministry.

The Rev. Maurice T. Lebel, 78, was removed temporarily from ministry in June 2007 after an allegation was made of sexual abuse of a minor in Massachusetts during the early 1980s. At the time of the complaint, Lebel was a Jesuit — a member of the Society of Jesus — ministering in Massachusetts.

“The allegation was thoroughly investigated, a canonical trial was held, and a three-judge panel of canon lawyers from outside the Diocese of Portland has determined the allegation was unproven,” Malone said in a letter dated Feb. 26 that was made available to parishioners in churches where Lebel served. “Therefore, I have lifted all restrictions previously placed on Father Lebel. This has been a long and arduous process and I thank you for your prayers.”

A church tribunal of canon lawyers presumes the accused is neither innocent nor guilty, according to Bernard. The evidence in the tribunal determines the outcome, which is either proven or not proven.

In Lebel’s case, the accusation was not proven, Bernard said in a press release.

Lebel, who retired in 2003, has no regular assignment, according to the diocese. He may again assist other priests in the administration of the sacraments, the bishop said.

Last month, Malone also announced that the Rev. Thomas Lee, removed from ministry in 2004, would not be allowed to resume public ministry. The retired priest was removed from public ministry after sexual abuse complaints against a priest stemming from the 1980s were lodged. At the time of the alleged abuse, he was serving a parish in Boothbay Harbor.

In 2008, a church tribunal consisting of three priests determined the accusations were not proved. Malone appealed that decision.

The bishop announced last month that a church appeals court had confirmed the tribunal’s findings, but it also agreed that Lee acted imprudently with minors.

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