Four Native Americans who say they were abused by three Roman Catholic priests on their reservation in Maine are the latest to bring lawsuits since the state fully lifted the statute of limitations for child sex crimes.
The Penobscot Nation members contend the abuse started when they were 7 to 16 years old at St. Ann Parish on Indian Island, just north of Bangor. The oldest abuse dates to 1972, while the most recent happened in 1987, according to the lawsuits.
Michael Bigos, a lawyer representing the members, filed the lawsuits in Penobscot County Superior Court, despite potential legal roadblocks by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. More than two dozen lawsuits brought by Bigos’ law firm are currently on hold while the diocese challenges the 2021 law that repealed the statute of limitations.
“Let us find out what the diocese knew and when they knew it, so they can be held fully accountable, and we can keep our communities safe for survivors,” Bigos told reporters in Bangor.
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The diocese didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.
One of the priests identified in a lawsuit, the Rev. Marcel Robitaille, was previously accused by others of sexual abuse and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican. Robitaille has since died. The other two priests named in the lawsuits, the Revs. David Cote and Leo James Michaud, are believed to be alive and living in Maine, Bigos said.
Reached at his home, Cote said he was surprised to learn that he was targeted in a lawsuit. “I don’t see myself as abusing anybody,” the 79-year-old told The Associated Press. The AP was unable to reach Michaud.