The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
For Immediate Release:
For More Information:
Clergy Sex Abuse Victims Blast Bishop; Seek Public Discussion
National Group Calls Maine Catholic Officials “Reckless & Secretive”
They Ask Church Leaders in Maine To Reconsider Reassigning Priest
A support group for clergy molestation victims is asking Maine's Catholic bishop to reconsider his decision to quietly let a suspended priest back in ministry and apologize for the secretive way it was done. They are also challenging him to a public discussion about the case.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing Maine Bishop Richard Malone about Fr. Paul Coughlin. In 2004, Coughlin was suspended from his parish when it was discovered that he let an admitted child molester who was a volunteer church youth worker live for years in the parish rectory.
Church officials admit that Coughlin himself engaged in “inappropriate physical contact” with at least one child.
The Portland Press Herald reported yesterday that Malone, apparently without notifying the public, press or Coughlin’s former parishioners, restored the priest to active ministry in November 2007.
SNAP leaders consider the move “secretive, reckless, and painfully identical to hundreds of other irresponsible decisions by America’s Catholic bishops decade after decade that knowingly put kids in harm’s way.”
"This is a catastrophe waiting to happen," said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP's outreach director. “There is no reason why Coughlin should be working in parishes. It comes down to this simple question: Why take the risk?” said Dorris.
A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent today by fax and e mail, is below:
Feb. 7, 2008
Most Rev. Richard Malone
Dear Bishop Malone:
We are distraught over your decision to restore Fr. Paul Coughlin to ministry is disturbing on many levels. Your continued secrecy and recklessness is painfully and virtually identical to hundreds of other irresponsible decisions by America’s Catholic bishops decade after decade that knowingly put kids in harm’s way.
At an absolute bare minimum, we believe you owe your flock, and parents whose kids may be near Coughlin, a full, public discussion or debate about your move. We challenge you to meet with us in an open setting to explain your recklessness and secrecy, and take questions from concerned Catholics and citizens.
Here are our concerns:
First, a priest who has engaged in what you admit was ‘inappropriate physical contact’ with a child will now be around kids more.
Second, a priest who was suspended for secretly letting a sex offender in his parish will be back in parishes.
Third, the priest has apparently shown no signs of remorse or made no reparations for his wrongdoing.
Fourth, you've done this in the same old, predictable, secretive way - refusing to inform the public or the parishioners about your apparently unilateral, reckless decision, violating your repeated pledges of ‘openness’ around clergy sex abuse cases. (Instead, a reporter got a ‘tip,’ so once again, most learned of your dangerous move thanks to the news media.)
Let’s get more specific:
A church investigation found that Coughlin violated a 1987 diocesan policy when he failed to report information he received in 1989 from a child who had been sexually abused by John Skinner, and that Coughlin failed to take steps to provide assistance to that victim. (Coughlin may have also violated criminal laws. In most states, refusing to call police about a child sex report is a crime.)
Coughlin then allowed Skinner to live at St. John's rectory from 1999 to 2001. That decision provided Skinner with access to kids when Skinner attended a youth ministry convention claiming to be a representative of St. John and Holy Cross parishes.
The diocese also reviewed a complaint made two years ago against Coughlin that alleged sexual misconduct with a minor in 1985 while working in Bangor. Church officials said public authorities were aware of this complaint and no criminal charges were filed. You wrote at the time, "Even though no new evidence specifically regarding that complaint surfaced, it is now reasonable to believe there was inappropriate physical contact at that time."
Let’s put Coughlin’s actions aside for a moment and focus on you. You have repeatedly promised to be ‘open and transparent’ about child sex abuse cases. In this case, you could have openly consulted with parishioners about a possible re-assignment of Coughlin. You could have gone to the parishes where he worked and disclosed your decision. Or you could have issued public notices back in November when you let Coughlin work again. But you took none of these steps. You did what bishops have done for decades: kept parents and parishioners and the public in the dark.
With the Coughlin case, you could have sent every church employee, volunteer and member a clear, strong message: “If you ignore common sense safety precautions, possibly break criminal laws, clearly violate church policy, closely associate with a child molester, help him gain access to kids, and engage in ‘inappropriate physical contact’ with a child, you will never work in this diocese again.”
Instead, you’re sending this message: “If you ignore common sense safety precautions, possibly break criminal laws, clearly violate church policy, closely associate with a child molester, help him gain access to kids, and engage in ‘inappropriate physical contact’ with a child, you will work in this diocese again, but I’ll be secretive about your re-assignment and you’ll have to wait a while until it’s all seemingly blown over.”
Finally, whether Coughlin is working part time or full time, in one parish or several, is irrelevant. A wrong-doer’s work schedule or location has little or no bearing on his penchant for wrong-doing, and it’s deceptive and disingenuous to pretend otherwise.You are deliberately putting him in a position to repeat his dangerous, hurtful and perhaps criminal actions around and with kids.
We strongly urge you – for the sake of vulnerable kids, wounded victims, and caring Catholics – to reconsider and rescind this unwise, unhealthy decision.
And we challenge you to an open, public discussion about this situation. We’ll meet you anywhere, any time and split the costs associated with such an event. You owe this much to Maine Catholics and citizens.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests