PORTLAND, Maine — Three individuals claiming Catholic priests and officials sexually abused them decades ago are suing the Maine diocese.
They’re believed to be the first cases brought since a state law, which took effect in October of 2021, removed the statute of limitations for childhood victims of sexual abuse to sue those they believe are responsible.
Attorney Mike Bigos, of the form Berman & Simmons, represents each alleged victim in their individual suits and told reporters Thursday the law makes a major difference for victims who could not seek justice before it.
"The three suits being filed this week represent survivors who can bring their claims forward now that the Maine legislature has changed the law, allowing those suits to come forward," Bigos said. "And gives those survivors an opportunity to seek justice and validation in bringing their claims and, for many, help with their healing."
Dave Guthro, spokesperson for the diocese, replied to a request for comment Thursday, saying the diocese doesn’t comment on pending litigation and will proceed in accordance with the court’s rules in due course.
One of the suits, brought by a man who wished to remain anonymous, alleges a priest at the former St. Andre church in Biddeford molested and abused him when he was 15 years old in 1981.
It’s not the first time in the past year an alleged victim had come forward to accuse leadership at this specific church of abuse.
In September of 2021, NEWS CENTER Maine reporter Vivien Leigh told the story of one of two women who came forward to accuse a different St. Andre Priest Robert Vaillancourt of sexual abuse in the early 1980s. Vaillancourt denied any wrongdoing and was placed on leave pending an investigation by the diocese. Another woman told Leigh she was considering taking action made possible by this new law.
Guthro did not respond when asked about the status of the investigation into Villancourt's alleged conduct.
Robert Dupuis is among of the three individuals filing suit through Bigos. He was 12 years old in 1961 when he alleges a priest at his Old Town Parish sexually abused him.
Dupuis wrote a statement, which Bigos read to reporters Thursday.
"There are many survivors like myself who were abused in childhood by the clergy," Dupuis wrote. "I struggled with my mental health for decades after the abuse, living a life of dysfunction and mistrust. The lawsuit gives me the opportunity to come forward and tell my story and, by doing so, to encourage other survivors to come forward.
"It's time for the church to stop minimizing the effects of sexual abuse on its victims and take full accountability for their negligence and malice," he concluded.
Maine's new law lifts the statute of limitations for victims who were minors at the time of their alleged abuse and pertains to all sexual abuse cases, not just within religious organizations.