PORTLAND, Maine — Robert Hoatson spent Tuesday morning walking in front of the Catholic diocese building at 510 Ocean Ave., carrying a sign that said “Reaching out to abuse victims.”
The national advocate for people sexually abused by Catholic clergy and a Boston attorney have alleged a letter uncovered through a lawsuit shows that Catholic Church leaders in Maine knew abuses by the Rev. James Vallely — who is now deceased — began earlier than previously admitted.
“It’s just another indication that the church still has not come clean and we’re calling on them to finally — let’s have the absolute truth,” Hoatson said. “Release all the documents about every priest that you’ve ever had an allegation against and let the victims heal.”
Hoatson, a former priest, said he has counseled more than 3,000 sexual abuse victims through the New Jersey-based nonprofit group Road to Recovery Inc., which he founded in 2005.
He said he hoped his trip from New Jersey to Portland would cause more people who were sexually abused by Vallely to come forward. The church previously acknowledged there were credible abuse allegations against Vallely that extended back to 1977.
A 2005 letter from the Rev. Richard P. Rice uncovered through a now-settled lawsuit filed in 2013 by two former altar servers at a South Berwick parish suggests that church leaders knew Vallely sexually abused boys before 1956, according to Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian.
The letter was from Rice to another priest, the Rev. Marc Caron. Rice wrote in the letter that the Rev. Richard Harvey, who died in 2005, told him that at least five boys had confided in Harvey that they were sexually abused by Vallely before he was transferred to another church.
Garabedian, the attorney, said the letter apparently refers to Vallely’s transfer from St. John Catholic Church to St. Dominic Parish in Portland in 1956.
Harvey, Rice wrote, said he notified Bishop Daniel J. Feeney of the allegations at the time of Feeney’s confirmation and Vallely was transferred soon after. Feeney became bishop of the diocese of Portland in 1955, according to the diocese’s website.
Garabedian said that letter opens the church up to lawsuits under Maine’s fraudulent concealment statute. He said he is preparing such cases on behalf of five clients but as of Tuesday afternoon had not contacted the diocese about the claims.
“I will be discussing the matter with the diocese,” Garabedian said.
He said he will explore whether he has sufficient evidence to pursue any claims against individual leaders of the church, but so far has not identified any individual targets for legal claims.
Bishop Robert P. Deeley said in a statement Tuesday that the diocese does not discuss publicly such cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics for reasons of “privacy and confidentiality” and said that “mistakes were made in the past and the failure to deal with this problem in a more forthright manner gravely harmed those who were abused.”
In his statement, Deeley urged anyone who may have information about any case of sexual abuse of a minor by a church representative to contact civil authorities and Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Diocese of Portland, at 207-321-7836 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Garabedian said Tuesday that the 2005 letter from Rice is proof that the diocese has tried to conceal allegations of sexual abuse against Vallely.
“This letter is evidence that it has been fraudulently concealed,” Garabedian said. “They had it in their possession, they understood what it meant and they didn’t notify the public. It’s not a vague letter — it’s very clear.”
The letter’s release late Monday also prompted criticism from Micheal Sweatt and Paul Kendrick, longtime activists against sexual abuse in the church.
“This letter is proof that there are other victims of Father Vallely who are still living in toxic shame thanks to Bishop Deeley’s failure to let them know they aren’t the only ones,” Kendrick said.
David Guthro, a spokesman for the church, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the letter from Rice or to clarify why that letter was not revealed until about one month ago.
Garabedian said he has not been in touch with Rice, the author of the letter. Efforts to contact Rice on Monday were unsuccessful.
Hoatson, who left Portland on Tuesday to hold another demonstration in Boston, said the letter opens questions about the church’s ability to handle allegations of sexual abuse against priests and to counsel victims.
“We have almost a 60-year cover-up and concealment of a serious serial pedophile called James Vallely,” Hoatson said. “If the church had done the right thing in the ’50s, we wouldn’t have to be here today.”
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.