January 3, 2004
Most Rev. Richard J. Malone
Diocese of Portland
Dear Bishop Malone,
It is hurtful to victims of abuse and to compassionate Catholics that you are permitting a reception on January 9th, being held to honor Rev. Paul Coughlin.
A diocesan investigation found that Coughlin failed to follow a 1987 diocesan policy when he failed to report that he had received information in 1989 from a minor who had been sexually abused by John Skinner. Further, he failed to take steps to provide assistance to that victim.
The investigation also found that with knowledge of Skinner's actions, Coughlin allowed him to live at the St. John rectory from 1999-2001 with no precautions or notifications. That decision provided Skinner with access to minors, when Skinner attended a youth ministry convention claiming to be a representative of St. John and Holy Cross parishes. While living at the rectory and with Fr. Coughlin's knowledge, Skinner achieved certification in youth ministry by using the name of the parish. Skinner also expressed an interest in the position of youth minister at the parish but was not offered the job.
The diocese also reviewed a complaint brought forward two years ago against Coughlin which alleged sexual misconduct with a minor in 1985. Public authorities were aware of this complaint and no criminal charges were filed. Although no new evidence specifically regarding the 2002 complaint was found, your office has stated that it is now reasonable to believe that there was inappropriate physical contact at that time.
Both the 2002 and 2004 investigations have been turned over to the Attorney General's office for their review.
It's bad enough that Coughlin was permitted to publish self-serving messages in the church bulletin even after being accused of these two dangerous acts.
It's bad enough that you've never undertaken any serious outreach efforts to help locate and offer assistance to potential Coughlin victims.
But now, in what can only be seen as rubbing salt into the already deep wounds of clergy sex abuse victims and caring Catholics, you are allowing a reception in Coughlin's honor to take place.
We are asking that you cancel this ill-conceived event. Coughlin is still an employee of the Maine diocese and you are his direct supervisor.
Instead, please take this opportunity to educate all Catholics about the proper, compassionate way to publicly act when a pastor is accused of sexual misconduct and of harboring a child molester.
Coughlin placed innocent children at risk of sexual abuse. Coughlin may have abused innocent children himself.
We hope you will agree that there is no honor in such actions. And we hope you will realize that honoring him publicly hurts already wounded victims and may frighten or discourage other victims (of Coughlin or of other Catholic clerics or employees) into remaining trapped in silence, shame and self-blame.
Catherine Morin Campbell