Reform Group Meeting Barred from Catholic Charities Building

Portland Press Herald [Biddeford ME]
April 11, 2003

BIDDEFORD - Leaders of Voice of the Faithful say the lay reform group has been barred from holding its first statewide meeting in a Catholic Charities building. The group, which supports victims of sex abuse by priests, was told Wednesday it will not be permitted to hold the Saturday meeting at the St. Paul Retreat Center in Augusta as planned.

"It's appalling," said Michael Sweatt, a co-founder of Voice of the Faithful in Maine. "They'll accept money from anybody else, but they won't accept money from Voice of the Faithful."

John Kerry, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, said the organization follows policies set by the bishop.

That contrasts with a decision Tuesday by Catholic Charities in Boston, which chose to accept $35,000 from Voice of the Faithful, even though Bishop Richard Lennon, interim administrator of the Archdiocese, refused to accept the money and asked Catholic Charities to follow suit.

This is not the first time that Voice of the Faithful has been barred from Catholic buildings in Maine. Bishop Joseph Gerry, who heads the Diocese of Portland, has told the group it cannot hold meetings in Portland churches.

The group's Portland chapter meets at Riverton Elementary School. The group also has chapters in Saco, Belfast and Ellsworth.

On Wednesday, abuse victim David Gagnon gave a talk to about 30 members of the Saco chapter, recounting how he was abused more than 20 years ago by the Rev. Michael Doucette, then a priest at St. Andre's Church in Biddeford.

"I had no idea what was happening to me," said Gagnon, now 38 and living in Ottawa. "We were raised to respect priests, and this guy was a member of the family."

Gagnon eventually told his story to the bishop and reached a financial settlement with the diocese in 1992. Doucette, who has acknowledged abusing Gagnon, was removed from his northern Maine ministry last year.

Gagnon no longer considers himself Catholic, a decision he said he came to because of the church's failure to respond with kindness to victims.

"I would say I am probably still Christian," said Gagnon, "because the values speak to me and the Scriptures speak to me." He said he is considering becoming an Anglican.

Voice of the Faithful, which is pushing for structural change in the church, said it now plans to hold its statewide meeting Saturday at the University of Maine at Augusta.


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