FORT KENT, Maine — A Roman Catholic priest assigned to St. John Vianney Parish is taking a voluntary leave of absence from public ministry, effective Tuesday, while the attorney general’s office conducts an investigation of allegations against him.
The Rev. James L. Nadeau, 51, has been serving the parish for seven years, Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, and Brenda Kielty, spokeswoman for the Maine attorney general’s office, said Tuesday evening in a news release.
They did not indicate why Nadeau was under investigation. Bernard declined to provide further details and Kielty could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Located in the St. John Valley in northernmost Maine, St. John Vianney Parish comprises St. Louis Catholic Church in Fort Kent, St. Mary Catholic Church in Eagle Lake, St. Charles Catholic Church in St. Francis and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Soldier Pond.
“In order for the investigation to proceed unimpeded, Father Nadeau has taken a voluntary leave of absence,” Bishop Richard Malone said.
“The diocese is cooperating fully with the Attorney General’s Office and at their request, I cannot discuss the allegations or anything about the investigation,” Malone said. “I am hopeful that this process will go smoothly in order to lead to an expeditious and just conclusion.”
“As in any investigation, it’s important to respect the presumption of innocence,” said Brenda Kielty, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. “It’s also important not to jump to conclusions about the nature of the allegations.”
Another member of the clergy will be assigned to the parish temporarily as soon as possible, according to the joint statement.
For Holy Week, Bishop Malone had planned to celebrate the Mass of the Oils on Wednesday evening at St. Louis Church. He has indicated that he will keep that schedule to be in solidarity with parishioners.
During his tenure at St. Louis, Nadeau led the more than $3 million effort to restore and reopen historic St. Louis Catholic Church after floodwaters from the St. John and Fish rivers threatened to wash it away on April 3, 2008. The two rivers merged into one that day, pouring nearly 3 feet of water onto the ground floor of the 100-year-old church.
The eight-month project involved countless hours of cleaning, repairing, haggling with insurance adjusters and dealing with church bureaucracy but the church reopened in times for Christmas Eve Mass.
In 2009, the priest took the controversial step of joining more than 150 other Fort Kent residents in writing letters of support on behalf of Chad Marquis, then 33, a parishioner convicted of smuggling hundred of pounds of marijuana across the Canadian border.
Nadeau also spoke at Marquis’ sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Portland.
The priest said that he had been meeting monthly with Marquis for spiritual counseling since his arrest. Nadeau said Marquis had been volunteering regularly at a local nursing home and had helped during the flood.
Nadeau was born in Caribou and was ordained in 1988. His first assignment was at St. Louis in Fort Kent that year. He also has served at St. Andre Catholic Church in Biddeford and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.
Bangor Daily News writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.