Portland Press Herald
Bishop agrees to meet Tupper
He plans to apologize to the Boothbay Harbor mother, but she's seeking initiatives aimed at other victims.
By EDWARD D. MURPHY, Staff Writer
January 31, 2009
Bishop Richard Malone has agreed to meet with a woman who said her son was sexually abused by a priest, but the two have widely differing opinions of what the meeting's goal might be.
Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said he envisions a "pastoral meeting" in which he would offer an apology and "spiritual benefit" to Marie Tupper of Boothbay Harbor, who has repeatedly asked to meet with the bishop.
Tupper, on the other hand, said she wants to talk to Malone about ways to "formulate initiatives that reach out to those who were already abused."
"I do not need or want the bishop's sympathy, mercy or 'pastoral care,' " Tupper said in a statement Friday evening after Malone's office announced that he would meet with her, although no date has been set.
Tupper declined to comment beyond the statement, in which she said Malone's decision to agree to a meeting "caught me by surprise because for the past two months, the bishop has publicly humiliated my family and me by his refusal to meet with me."
Tupper says her son was abused by the Rev. Thomas Lee while Lee was the parish priest in Boothbay Harbor from 1971 to 1985. The Roman Catholic Diocese said earlier this month that nine people told church officials that Lee had touched them inappropriately or violated their privacy, and church investigators said they have secondhand reports of five other alleged victims.
Lee, now 81, was a priest in Lyman from 1985 until 2003, when he was removed because of the allegations of misconduct. He was brought before a church tribunal in 2007, but that panel decided last year that the claims had not been proven. The tribunal said Lee's actions in the 1980s were "imprudent."
Malone said he was "stunned and disappointed" by the verdict and has appealed the ruling to the Vatican, which has not said whether it will hear the appeal.
Malone initially declined to meet with Tupper, saying that she had met with his predecessor, Bishop Joseph Gerry. In December, Malone said Tupper could meet with the Rev. Andrew Dubois, vicar general and a Diocesan Review Board member, but Tupper declined and asked again to meet with Malone.
Pressure on Malone to meet with Tupper has been building since then. Malone said in a statement Friday that he would meet with Tupper "after hearing from trusted supporters and the lay faithful, prayerful consideration regarding maintaining unity in the Church, and with hope that additional outreach to Mrs. Tupper will lead to healing."
Malone's statement went on to say that in pastoral meetings, survivors of abuse and family members could tell what happened to them, relate the pain they suffered and "realize that they are heard." He said victims deserve an apology, and added that he hopes "this meeting will offer a measure of relief and peace to Mrs. Tupper."
Paul Kendrick, an advocate for victims of sexual abuse by priests, talked with Tupper after Malone's announcement. Kendrick said that falls far short of what they want from the meeting.
Kendrick said Malone's decision to meet with Tupper is simply a reaction to public pressure.
"He has, in effect, publicly humiliated not only Marie, but her son, and her mother – her son's grandmother – by his refusal to sit down and meet with the mother whose son was sexually abused by their parish priest," Kendrick said. "It's kind of typical of abusive behavior, where the abuser kind of kicks and beats up on the abused, and then five days later shows up with a bouquet of flowers."
Kendrick said Tupper wants Malone to identify priests who have been accused of sexual abuse and say where they are. She also wants Malone to go to Boothbay Harbor and relate details of the alleged abuse, such as where it was said to have taken place, in the hope of encouraging others who might have been victimized to come forward.
"People are sick and tired of meaningless discussions that are good for their (the church's) own public relations," Kendrick said.
Sue Bernard, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said the bishop has already responded to some of the concerns that Tupper has raised.
A release detailing the number of reports of abuse alleged against Lee was provided in December, according to Bernard. She said at the time that the alleged abuse involved inappropriate touching or violating privacy, such as going into an area where someone might expect another person to be undressed.
The diocese said at the time that the details were provided to counter a sense in the Boothbay Harbor parish that Tupper was the primary source of the allegations against Lee.
Bernard said she expects that Malone will try to meet with Tupper "sooner, rather than later," and said a pastoral meeting generally lasts 30 minutes to an hour. She said she doesn't know whether Malone and Tupper will be meeting one on one or whether others will be present.
Bernard said Malone is open to meeting with other victims or their families and said U.S. bishops have agreed to a charter that includes offering pastoral assistance as one aspect of the church's responsibilities to victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: