PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The first lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland since Maine took away a limitation on claims of child sexual abuse were filed on Thursday.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed a law last year that allowed victims to bring civil lawsuits about older abuse cases. Abuse survivors previously could not bring lawsuits if they experienced the abuse prior to the late 1980s.
Attorneys who represent three people with claims of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and a lay educator filed the complaints seeking monetary damages. The claims state that the abuse took place over decades starting in the early 1960s.
Two of the claimants requested not to be identified, but one, Robert Dupuis, said in a statement that he hopes the lawsuits will encourage victims to come forward. His attorney, Michael Bigos of Portland, said more lawsuits would follow.
“The lawsuit gives me the opportunity to come forward and tell my story and by doing so to encourage other survivors to come forward,” Dupuis said. “It’s time for the church to stop minimizing the effects of sexual abuse on its victims and take full accountability for their negligence and malice.”
Representatives for the diocese did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment about the lawsuits.
Maine eliminated its statute of limitations for the lawsuits in 2000, but the policy was not retroactive. That changed with last year. The bill that changed the law stated that damages “may be awarded against an entity that employed, supervised or had responsibility for the person who committed or allegedly committed the sexual act only if there is a finding of negligence on the part of the entity.”
The diocese unsuccessfully fought against the law change last year. Bruce Gerrity, an attorney for the diocese, testified at that time that the law change could burden a court system that he said already provides “wide access for civil claims based on sexual acts towards minors.”
Bigos said resolving the lawsuits filed on Thursday would likely take many months.