The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine, has settled a sexual abuse lawsuit for $1.2 million, according to a lawyer for six men who accused the church of covering up abuse allegations against a former priest.
“Once again you have purportedly the most moral institution in the world acting the most immorally,” Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian said Monday at a news conference held to announce the details of the settlement.
Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of survivors of sexual abuse, said the victims were between the ages of 8 and 15 when they were abused by the Rev. James Vallely. The abuse occurred between 1958 and 1977, he said.
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In 2009, church officials admitted having known that Vallely was sexually abusing children as early as 1978, according to Garabedian. But he said there is evidence that the church knew of the abuse as far back as 1956, yet did nothing about it.
In a 2005 letter to a church official, a retired priest said that former Maine Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Fenney knew in the 1950s that Vallely was molesting children. Vallely was moved to a different parish, which Garabedian described as the “typical approach of the Catholic Church when sexual abuse is reported.”
The abuse was kept secret for 60 years, Garabedian said, putting children at multiple parishes in contact with a “serial pedophile.” Vallely retired in 1988 and died in 1997, according to published reports.
“There is absolutely no excuse for not protecting innocent children. It is time for accountability, it is time for transparency,” Garabedian said. “What other pedophiles are within their ranks that the diocese is protecting?”
In 1993, Vallely was suspended from his duties after three men told the church that the priest abused them in the 1950s, when he was a priest at St. Dominic’s parish in Portland.
In a statement, the Diocese of Portland said Bishop Robert P. Deeley encourages anyone with information about any case of the sexual abuse of a minor to contact authorities.
“The diocese hopes that this settlement brings a measure of peace to the people involved,” David Guthro, a diocese spokesman, said in a statement.
Garabedian called on the state of Maine to conduct an independent investigation of the Portland Diocese to determine what church officials knew about the abuse, and when.
Lawrence Gray, 68, said Vallely sexually abused him when he was a boy, sending him into a downward spiral that has taken “half a lifetime” to repair.
“I have done a lot of homework, a lot of honest psychological work in terms of who I am and what I’ve been through, and I’m actually grateful for my life, as silly as that sounds,” he said.
When his parents divorced, Vallely became his “caretaker,” Gray recalled. He spent years suppressing his emotions, unable to admit what was happening to him, even to his own family.
Robert Hoatson, president of the Road to Recovery, a nonprofit that helps victims of sexual abuse, said the six plaintiffs in the case are elated by the settlement. Yet no amount of money can erase the trauma they experienced as children, he said.
“The Diocese of Portland should have done this decades ago,” he said. “We have at least five or six bishops that held this secret all this time — and it’s an absolute disgrace.”