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Sex Abuse Victims Seek Apology From Maine Priest
Support Group Wants Monsignor To Help Reach Out To Others
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is asking a Catholic pastor to publicly apologize for not stopping a fellow priest who victimized youngsters. They also want the pastor to encourage anyone who has been abused, witnessed abuse or suspected abuse to contact the police and prosecutors.
In a letter to Monsignor Joseph Ford, pastor of St. Mary's church parish in Wells, ME, leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) are asking that he actively seek out other victims of an abusive cleric.
In a church document recently made public, Ford acknowledged having "serious concerns" about the Rev. Raymond Melville even before the priest was accused in 1990 of sexually abusing a teenager. The document was first disclosed in a July 16 Portland Press Herald article by Gregory Kesich.
But church officials kept those concerns quiet for fear of "liability and . . . scandal," transferring Melville to two new parishes in three years, according to the records which were recently uncovered by a lawsuit.
"At an absolute bare minimum, Ford needs to publicly apologize to Catholics for putting their kids at risk," said David Clohessy of St. Louis. He is the national director The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "We believe he has a moral duty to reach out to others who may have been hurt because he failed to act."
"Ford's concern was minimizing scandal. The diocese's own documents prove this," said SNAP founder and president Barbara Blaine of Chicago. "Now it's up to him to prove that he's concerned about children and justice and restitution."
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) the oldest and largest support group for clergy sexual abuse victims in the country. It is based in Chicago and has just over 5,000 members.
SNAP's letter to Melville appears below:
August 4, 2004
Monsignor J. Joseph Ford
Dear Monsignor Ford,
We, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), are urging you to make a public apology for your actions involved in failing to prevent the sex crimes of Rev. Raymond Melville.
You failed to stop Father Raymond Melville even though you had notice or at least suspicions of his abusive actions. Due to your failure, a child molester was allowed to continue abusing at least one youngster.
As you are well aware, the sexual abuse of a child has lasting consequences. Long-term effects of child abuse include suicide, fear, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor self-esteem, tendency toward substance abuse and difficulty with close relationships. By failing to stop Melville, you put dozens of innocent kids in harm's way. We will never know how many are not irreparably hurt and struggle with these horrific long-term effects.
Michael Fortin has reported that Melville sexually abused him between 1985 and 1992 (when Michael was a 13 year-old altar boy). Further, in 1990, a Maryland man wrote Bishop Joseph Gerry reporting that Melville had abused him "emotionally, sexually and physically" during the 1980s. This man stated in his letter, "The possible tragedy of another young boy being a victim compels me to write this letter." Bishop Gerry wrote back promising to "address the matter vigorously and expeditiously."
Yet, based on press reports, even before this letter was received, you wrote a memo dated March 18 to Auxiliary Bishop Amadee Proulx in which you stated: "Attached is another draft of a letter to (name redacted). I respectfully suggest that you avoid reference to earlier complaints (about Melville). While we did not have any substantive or factual allegations of improper conduct, we did have serious concerns about his conduct placed before us, i.e., those of Msgr. Fitz sometime ago and the complaint last fall. There could be liability and at least scandal if those concerns were presented. The letter of (name redacted) confirms the validity of the concerns."
We are also understand that Father Melville was sent to a Golden Valley, Minn., treatment facility that spring. He returned to Maine in August and was reassigned to St. Joseph's Church in Lewiston. In 1992 he was transferred to Holy Name Church in Machias. He left the active priesthood in 1997.
Monsignor Ford, one of the saddest aspects of the sexual abuse crisis in the American Catholic Church has been the absence of truth by church leaders. You cannot change the fact that you did little or nothing to protect children from Father Melville. But you can do the right thing now. We have no doubt this will be difficult for you - but survivors of childhood clergy sexual abuse, and your flock, deserve no less.
Therefore, we urge you to:
1) Publicly apology to Michael Fortin and all sexual abuse victims of Father Melville who have not yet come forward for the abuse itself and for your failure to protect them.
2) Disclose all records pertaining to Father Melville, including a timeline of the allegations you received concerning about him and any other clergy member during the time you were Chancellor.
3) Make personal visits to all the parishes in which Melville served. It is imperative that you inform parishioners of Father Melville's history of sexually abusing children and urge parishioners to come forward to law enforcement officials about any information they have about Father Melville.
Apology and restitution can be healing. Only you know why you chose to protect Father Melville over children. Yet we have hope and faith that you have the ability, in some small way, to right the wrongs of the past and provide some comfort and healing to survivors.
We look forward to your prompt response.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests