Diocese discreetly substantiates abuse allegation
(For Immediate Release January 31, 2022)
On Friday, January 21, 2022, the Diocese of Portland, Maine discreetly posted the following notification on their website, among announcements about weekend special collections: following two investigations by the Diocese of Portland’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Bishop Robert Deeley accepted the recommendation of the Diocesan Review Board that the recent complaints made against Fr. Eugene Descombes and the former Fr. Renald Hallee are substantiated. We find this announcement as an attempt to downplay the allegations against these clerics and believe church officials in Portland need to make a much stronger and more sincere effort to inform their parish communities about these men.
The complaint against Descombes concerned the sexual abuse of a minor in the mid-1950s which came to the attention of the diocese in 2021. The incident took place during a trip to Canada. Descombes, who died in 1980, was a Canadian priest who served during the summer months in Maine over the course of several years. The Archdiocese of Québec was notified of this complaint and the results of the investigation.
In 2010, a woman filed suit against Hallee and the diocese, alleging that Hallee sexually abused her between 1970-1973, beginning when she was age 8 and he was working at St. John’s Parish in Bangor ME. However, in this recent announcement, the diocese states, “The complaint against Hallee concerned the sexual abuse of a high school teen in the early 1970s which was reported to the diocese in 2020. Hallee has not been in ministry or served as a priest since the late 1970s.” By our accounts, this notification failed to mention that the complaints by this teen are not the only allegations against Hallee. We have reason to believe that Hallee worked for the Lexington, Massachusetts public school system for 30 years after his purported leave from the clerical state. He also served in the Archdiocese of Boston as a teen ministry leader in Billerica, MA. This role included chaperoning teens on overnight trips.
To us, this attempt at minimization only makes us more worried; if Hallee abused minors so early in his career, then there should be extra scrutiny given to every place he volunteered and worked. Those who abuse children seldom have just one victim. This is the exact reason we believe church officials from Portland need to do aggressive outreach to every location where these men served.
Given the allegations against Renald Halle and the fact that his career put him in close proximity to children, we believe Catholic officials in Portland, Maine owe it to parents and parishioners to publicize the accusations against him across New England states. Church officials owe victims, parents, parishioners, and the public far greater transparency than they have afforded them so far. To do anything less is an affront to the promises of openness and transparency of the Dallas Charter.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)