New bishop of Diocese of Portland played role in purging of abusive priests

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PORTLAND — The newly appointed bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is credited with playing a key role in the Vatican’s purge of priests accused of sexual abuse, and later as the Archdiocese of Boston took the step of identifying abusive priests openly on its website.

Both were considered significant moves in the effort to overcome sex abuse scandals that came to light over the last decade and a half and tarnished the Catholic Church’s reputation.

Now, as Catholics and others in the state react to last week’s appointment of Bishop Robert Deeley, some of the strongest statements are from Maine clergy abuse victims and their supporters, who hope Deeley will continue his reconciliation work in Maine.

In 2011, after seven years away, Deeley rejoined the Archdiocese of Boston and served as one of the top aides to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who that year opened the vault on the archdiocese’s sex abuse cases by posting a database of priests who had been accused, as well as what became of them.

Prior to 2011, Deeley served at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – often informally called the Holy Office – in Rome, during a time when Pope Benedict XVI called for the discipline or defrocking of thousands of priests “credibly accused” of sex abuse.

Maine representatives of the Ignatius Group, a loosely knit nationwide network of supporters of victims of the alleged sexual abuses, used the announcement of Deeley’s appointment to reiterate their calls for an online registry of accused priests similar to the one in Boston.

In an email to media outlets, Paul Kendrick and Michael Sweatt of Ignatius Group said they also want the diocese to pay for long-term medical and mental health care for victims of abuse by priests, opening of church documentation on any abuse and cover-ups, and the dismissals of anyone involved in hiding the activity, among other things.

At his introductory news conference Dec. 18, Deeley said he had “no set plan or program” in mind as he approaches work as Maine’s 12th bishop, but said the safety of children is of high importance.

“The protection of children is a priority for this diocese as it is for dioceses all over the country,” Deeley said, adding, “I think the information on those who have been found guilty of sexual abuse is available and has been made public, and I trust the diocese to do what’s necessary to protect the children.”

Other Catholics in Maine simply expressed their happiness that a new bishop would be coming to the state. At a Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, attendees welcomed the appointment of a new bishop, which came 19 months after previous Bishop Richard Malone was appointed to head the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y.

“That’s good news,” said Allan Mzeyimana of Portland.

“You hope you have a holy bishop who’s going to be responsive to the flock, be true to the teachings of the church and help us lead better lives,” said Peter Doyle, also of Portland.

Deeley, 67, was ordained a priest in July 1973, and consecrated a bishop in January. He will be installed Feb. 14, the feast day of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Sidebar Elements

The Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley, former auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Boston, will become bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.