Tuesday, June 25, 2002

D.A. says claims about priests probably won't lead to charges

By KEITH EDWARDS Staff Writer,

Copyright 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

AUGUSTA The top prosecutor in Kennebec and Somerset counties said Monday that he's reviewed complaints of sexual abuse against priests and so far has found none that appear to warrant filing criminal charges.

David Crook, district attorney for both counties, said some of the complaints allege sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic priests that may be unethical, even immoral, but not illegal.

Other complaints refer to events that occurred so long ago that the statute of limitations has run out on them. Still others were anonymous complaints too vague to indicate whether crimes occurred, or if they did, who committed them.

"So far, I have not seen anything that appears to be a prosecutable case," Crook said Monday. "If somebody took advantage of their position (in the church) and engaged in consensual sexual relations with an adult man or adult woman, that may not violate criminal law. It may be unethical, it may be inappropriate, it may be immoral, it may even result in civil redress, but it may not violate criminal law."

Crook said some of the complaints he has reviewed involve consensual sex between priests and adult parishioners.

Crook said he may find such conduct wrong, but it doesn't mean a crime was committed. And his responsibility as district attorney, he noted, is to determine whether a crime has occurred.

The files Crook reviewed were among the complaints against 33 church officials statewide, none of whom are active, that initially were reviewed by the state Attorney General's Office. State officials announced last week they completed their review and distributed the complaint files to local prosecutors, who will decide whether to bring charges.

Crook noted the complaints also include allegations against people who were not in the clergy.

The behavior alleged in some complaints occurred so long ago some are as many as 30 years old they cannot be prosecuted. In 1991, the Legislature removed the statute of limitations for future crimes involving sexual abuse, but incidents before 1991 are still subject to a 20-year limit.

Crook declined to reveal the number of complaints he's reviewed.

"There are a large number of anonymous complaints," Crook said. "When you have an anonymous caller complaining about an unnamed priest, we're not going to get very far with that."

He said he has conducted only a preliminary review of the complaints, and has read summaries provided by the Attorney General's Office and Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, who previously received allegations of abuse from the Portland Diocese. Crook expects to take a couple of weeks to review the complaints more fully before making a final decision on whether to prosecute any of them.

"It was an excellent summary prepared by the Attorney General's Office," he said. "And it appears the bishop (Joseph Gerry) has been very straightforward in providing all the complaints."

The Portland Diocese no longer allows priests accused of abuse to continue parish work. It has also opened its files to investigators looking into past allegations.

Keith Edwards 621-5647

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