Bishop appeals Vatican ruling on sex abuse

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PORTLAND — Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is appealing the findings of a Vatican tribunal clearing a Maine priest accused of sexually abusing minors in the 1980s.

A Vatican Tribunal, comprised of three priests with special expertise in church law, ruled in August the accusations of sexual abuse against Thomas Lee, now 81, who has served parishes in Portland, Boothbay and Bath, among others, were not proven.

Malone said he was “stunned and disappointed” in the Vatican’s ruling, which found that Lee’s actions — however imprudent — were not illegal. Malone said he appealed in September to ensure that each piece of evidence was presented properly.

The case was originally forwarded to the Vatican in March of 2004, and a Portland-based tribunal of three priests from outside of the Portland Diocese, who have special expertise in church law, was established in 2006. Testimony was presented throughout 2007, and the decision was reached in August.

Lee, who has not served in the ministry since 2003, cannot return until the case is fully resolved.