FORT KENT, Maine — Pope Francis on Monday said the Roman Catholic Church should “weep and make reparation” for the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy, but for at least one advocacy group in Maine, that does not go far enough.
“For some time now, I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering,” Pope Francis said in his strongest comments yet on the crimes, delivered in the homily of a Mass with adult victims on Monday. “So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking.”
In Maine, where at least 15 allegations of sexual abuse by a priest against a minor have been made over the years against the Diocese of Portland, an official with a group supporting those victims is looking for more from the church hierarchy.
“The pope’s meetings with these six victims may have helped those particular six,” Paul Kendrick of the Ignatius Group in Maine, an advocate for minors abused by church clergy, said Monday. “But kids are not safer today because of that meeting.”
Robert Gossart, the Maine representative to Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, and himself a survivor of childhood abuse at the hands of a priest, agrees.
“I think the pope meeting with those victims was something positive,” Gossart said Monday from his Mount Desert Island home. “But there has been so much negative in the past, and we have not seen much progress in the year or two Francis has been pope.”
Gossart, who was 11 years old and living in Belgium when he was abused, said he admires the courage of the victims who met with Francis.
“I was a victim and I understand their suffering,” he said. “I have been working on [abuse advocacy] for 35 years, and it moves very slowly due to the church’s decision to keep silent and hide records.”
Pope Francis should be “appalled” by what is going on in the church, Gossart said, and ashamed that so little has been done to stop it and punish the abusers who he said are often reassigned to different parishes when abuse allegations arise.
“The passivity of the Vatican has been appalling,” he said. “When the leadership continues to cover up for the abusers, it does not do anything for the prevention of sexual abuse. Children are still assaulted, the abusers are still reassigned and the cover ups are still going on all over the world.”
Kendrick said there is a lack of meaningful action on the part of church here in Maine, and that the Portland Diocese has ignored his group’s multiple requests to establish and post a database of “publicly, credibly accused priests and church workers.”
“We in advocacy have been beseeching first Bishop [Richard] Malone and now Bishop [Robert] Deeley to post that database,” Kendrick said. “What we are asking for is not anything more than what was done in the archdiocese in Boston.”
Before taking the helm of the Catholic church in Maine, Deeley was an auxiliary bishop in Boston.
Deeley also spent seven years in Rome with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, working to investigate clergy sex abuse cases around the world.
Deeley was out of the country Monday and unavailable for comment.
According to a report in the BDN, in 2007 Malone announced that the names of 15 priests against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse had been made had been sent to Rome for action as required.
The last announcement that priests had been removed came in May 2008. At that time, action had been taken on seven of the 15 cases, according to the diocese. Information on how many cases still were pending in Rome was not available Monday.
“The diocese conducts internal investigations and alerts the civil authorities on any complaint that comes in, but all complaints are involving incidents that allegedly occurred before 1992,” Dave Guthro, spokesman for the Diocese of Portland, said in an emailed response.
Guthro’s email also included excerpts from Deeley’s homily given during the Day of Prayer and Penance on March 12.
“The failure to deal with this problem in a more forthright manner has been a terrible scandal and has gravely harmed those who were abused,” Deeley said. “We cannot change the past, but we can do everything possible to see that history does not repeat itself. In that light, true repentance can be shown in serious vigilance. That vigilance must, above all, be attentive in assuring that our Church is a safe environment for our children.”
As far as Kendrick and the Ignatious Group is concerned, those assurances are not being met.
As an example, Kendrick pointed to the cases of priests identified in 2002 by Bishop Malone as abusers of children. He specifically cited the cases surrounding the former Rev. Michael Doucette and the former Rev. John Audibert, who were accused of sexually abusing children in the late 1970s while assigned to parishes in St. Agatha and Madawaska, respectively.
“Audibert admitted to abusing one child, and we know of others who have come forward,” Kendrick said. “He was sentenced to a meaningless sentence called ‘a life of prayer and penance,’ but he still receives a pension and health care [benefits] from the church.”
More importantly, Kendrick said, no one knows, or will tell, where Audibert is currently living.
“We have been asking Deeley to post [Audibert’s] whereabouts and photos on the diocese’s’ website so families can know what he looks like, where he is and better protect their children,” he said.
So far, Kendrick said, Deeley has not responded to that request.
Without such response and action, Kendrick said, not much has changed for past or any future abuse victims.
“If the six who met with the pope are pleased with their meeting, I am glad for them,” he said. “But again, no child is any safer today because of it.”