Diocese of Maine sued for first time since end of abuse barrier

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The first lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland since Maine removed a cap on child sexual abuse complaints were filed Thursday.

Democratic Governor Janet Mills signed legislation last year that allowed victims to file civil lawsuits for older abuse cases. Previously, abuse survivors could not sue if they were abused before the late 1980s.

Lawyers representing three people alleging childhood sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and a lay educator have filed suits seeking damages. The claims indicate that the abuse took place for decades from the early 1960s.

Two of the plaintiffs asked not to be identified, but one of them, Robert Dupuis, said in a statement that he hoped the lawsuits would encourage victims to come forward. His attorney, Michael Bigos of Portland, said more lawsuits would follow.

“The trial gives me the opportunity to come forward and tell my story, and in doing so, encourage other survivors to come forward,” Dupuis said. “It is time for the church to stop minimizing the effects of sexual abuse on its victims and take full responsibility for their negligence and malice.”

Diocesan officials did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment on the lawsuits.

Maine eliminated its statute of limitations for lawsuits in 2000, but the policy was not retroactive. That changed with last year. The bill that amended the law stated that damages “can only be awarded to an entity that employed, supervised or had responsibility for the person who committed or allegedly committed the sexual act if there is a finding of negligence on the part of the entity”.

The diocese fought unsuccessfully against the law change last year. Bruce Gerrity, a lawyer for the diocese, testified at the time that the change in the law could burden a legal system which he said already provides “broad access to civil lawsuits based on sexual acts against minors”.

Bigos said resolution of the lawsuits filed Thursday would likely take several months.

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