Brothers sue Catholic diocese over alleged abuse by dead priest

Posted June 03, 2013, at 6:14 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Two brothers who were altar servers at a South Berwick parish in the late mid- to late 1970s have sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland claiming the bishop at the time knew the priest who sexually abused them was a danger to children but did not remove him from ministry.

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney known for representing victims of clergy sexual abuse, filed separate lawsuits May 15 in Cumberland County Superior in Portland on behalf of Frederick Sean Conroy, 46, of Essex County, Mass, and Jeffrey Patrick Conroy, 45, of Bexar County, Texas. The men claim that they were sexually assaulted between 1976 and 1979 by the Rev. James Vallely, now deceased, when he was pastor at St. Michael Catholic Church.

The lawsuits name the bishop of the diocese as the defendant. Maine Catholics currently are waiting for Pope Francis to appoint a new bishop. The former leader of the diocese, Bishop Richard J. Malone, 67, now head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., left in July after eight years in Maine. Answers to the complaints have not yet been filed. Gerald F. Petruccelli, the Portland attorney who represents the diocese, declined to comment on the lawsuits Monday. Efforts to reach Garabedian last week and on Monday were unsuccessful.

The diocese previously acknowledged that there were credible abuse allegations against Vallely. In 2005, the diocese said that Vallely would have been fired if he had lived. The priest died in 1997 in Florida.

The Conroys claim that Bishop Edward C. O’Leary, who led the diocese from 1974 to 1988, and two unidentified priests, who were “responsible for the hiring, supervision, direction and retention” of Vallely, learned in 1978 that the priest had sexually assaulted minors. That information “was concealed from the public” until 2009, the complaint said.

“Father Vallely engaged in grooming conduct with [both boys], including among other things, having dinner with the plaintiffs at the rectory and taking the plaintiffs to a restaurant for ice cream,” the complaints said.

Both men claim they have suffered severe and permanent mental distress and emotional injuries. They are seeking unspecified damages for medical treatment and counseling. The also are seeking the replacement of lost long-term income earning capacity and other unspecified damages.

In late 2009, the diocese reached a $200,000 settlement with Garabedian, who represented a woman abused by Vallely in 1976 when she was 11 years old, according to a previously published report. The abuse occurred at St. Michael’s in South Berwick, according to a previously published report.

Vallely, a native of Sanford, was a priest in Washington state after his ordination in 1949. In 1952, he became a diocesan priest under the jurisdiction of the Maine bishop. He served in a variety of parishes around the state, and retired from St. Michael’s Parish in South Berwick on June 30, 1988, after serving there for 14 year. Vallely died in 1997, at the age of 75 in Florida, according to a previously published report.

Vallely began his career in Maine as an associate at St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church in Waterville. He served for two months in 1953 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Bangor, and then for three years at St. John Catholic Church in Bangor, just before going to St. Dominic Catholic Church in Portland. At St. John’s, he was spiritual director of the junior praesidium, and also for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which included catechism classes for public school children, adult study clubs and a parent-educator program.

Vallely served at St. Dom’s as associate pastor for 11 years, from 1956 to 1967. After leaving there, Vallely served as temporary administrator at St. Louis Catholic Church in Limestone from 1967 to 68, then was pastor at Holy Name Catholic Church in Machias for six years before moving to his final pastorate in South Berwick.

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