Maine Diocese Substantiates Allegations Of Abuse
A review board for the Portland Diocese found abuse allegations against two priests to be credible. Courts had dismissed allegations against one of the priests.
The Diocese of Portland substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse against two former priests. On January 21, 2022, the diocese announced the findings in a press release on its website. The two priests now facing substantiated allegations include Eugene Descombes and Renald Hallee.
Eugene Descombes was a Canadian priest with the Archdiocese of Québec. During the summers Descombes served in Maine. In 1950, according to the allegations, he abused a minor during a trip to Canada. Descombes died in 1980.
Renald Hallee was accused of sexually abusing a high school student in the 1970s. Hallee, formerly a priest in the Diocese of Portland, served at St. John’s Catholic Church in Bangor from 1970 to 1973. Hallee left the priesthood in 1977 to become a school teacher in Massachusetts. He retired in 2007.
The report did not specify the dates or locations of the abuse. Additionally, these are not the first priest abuse accusations made against the Diocese of Portland or Renald Hallee.
Portland Woman Accuses Hallee Of Sexual Abuse
Throughout his career, multiple survivors have accused Renald Hallee of abuse. In 2010, a Portland woman accused the former priest of child sexual abuse. The alleged incident also occurred during Hallee’s time at St. John’s church.
Christine S. Angell filed a lawsuit against Hallee and the Diocese of Portland. According to Angell, the abuse occurred from 1970 to 1973, when she was a child.
At the time of the abuse, Maine’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims gave Angell two years from her 18th birthday to file a lawsuit. However, by the time she turned 18, Hallee had relocated to Lexington, Massachusetts. Angell did not locate him until 2009.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs vary based on the jurisdiction, the type of injury and the intended legal action (i.e., criminal charges versus a civil claim).
Maine Opens A Permanent “Look Back” Window
Today, child sex abuse survivors in Maine have more legal options than Angell. In the year 2000, Maine lawmakers eliminated the state’s civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. However, the removal of the statute was not retroactive. Survivors with expired cases, such as Angell, were still time-barred from seeking legal action.
In June 2021, Maine legislators rectified this by opening a permanent “look back” window. This legislation revives all expired abuse claims. Unlike other “look back” windows, the Maine revival window never closes.
Many priest abuse survivors delay filing a civil lawsuit for one reason or another. It can take years for a survivor to come to terms with their abuse and its long-term effects, especially if they were a child when the abuse occurred.
For others, like Angell, they may be unable to locate their abuser before the statute of limitations expires. By opening “look back” windows, lawmakers give these survivors a second chance at obtaining justice and holding responsible organizations accountable. Several other states have opened temporary “look back” windows including California, Colorado and Louisiana.
Maine Survivors Continue To Find Justice
Since the opening of the permanent “look back” window, numerous survivors have been able to file clergy abuse lawsuits in Maine. At least 49 clergy members have been credibly accused to date. Lawsuits have also named the Diocese of Portland as a defendant for failing to take action on reports of priest abuse.
Multiple lawsuits have ended in compensation for the survivors. In 2016, six men filed a lawsuit, accusing former priest James Vallely of child sexual abuse. Diocesan leaders reportedly knew of the abuse but failed to remove Vallely or contact law enforcement. The Diocese of Portland agreed to pay $1.2 million in compensation.
Diocese of Portland. (2022, January 21). Diocese of Portland Finds Recently Received Complaints Against Two Priests Stemming from Incidents in 1950’s and 1970’s Substantiated. [Press Release].
Dolan, S. (2014, May 29). Maine high court rules woman can’t go ahead with abuse claim against former priest. The Press Herald.
Harrison, J. (2014, May 29). State supreme court rules statute of limitations bars woman’s abuse suit against ex-priest. Bangor Daily News.
Russel, L. (2022, January 31.) Maine diocese finds sexual abuse allegations against 2 priests are credible. Bangor Daily News.
(2016, August 15). Diocese in Portland, Maine, settles sex abuse suit for $1.2M. The Associated Press.
(2022, February 1). Maine Catholic diocese substantiates abuse allegations against 2 priests. The Press Herald.