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Blind Faith

Mar 27, 2002 | Portland Press Herald The case file, well over a foot thick, contains thousands of pieces of paper. But for Anthony Matthews, one will always stand out.

"There it is," he said last week, staring at the documented fallout from his years-long battle with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. "How could they say that? How could they say those words about a kid?"

Exactly who uttered them, we may never know for sure. But the words, handwritten and underlined by a high-ranking diocesan official 18 years ago, speak volumes about what awaited those who dared back then to accuse a Roman Catholic priest of something so heinous as child molestation.

"Older one," say the notes, referring to Matthews. "Vindictive queer."

The notes were taken by the Rev. Joseph Ford, then the chancellor of the diocese, who insists the words were not his. They sat in a "secret archive" for more than a decade before the church surrendered them during a three-year civil lawsuit filed against the diocese in 1994 by Matthews and three of his brothers.

Now, as Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson pores over a 50-page report outlining what the diocese says is every report of sexual abuse ever lodged against a priest in Maine, the church claims there are no more secrets. The case of the Rev. Raymond Lauzon is but one of those windows back to a time when the church fought every attempt to expose the pedophiles among its priests, and instead blamed the victims.

Still, the Lauzon file - eight manila folders bursting with affidavits, depositions and confidential church documents - offers by far the biggest window into a scandal shaking the very foundation of the Roman Catholic Church, from Portland all the way to Rome.

It reveals a former bishop who, when asked to name the victim in this most sensitive of cases, replied, "Father Lauzon." It reveals notes taken by Ford and others that allude to "political repercussions" for the district attorney and the "emotional hurt" suffered by Lauzon - yet contain no such worries about the boys, now men, who claim to this day that his sexual abuse ruined their lives.

In short, the file reveals a posture of defensiveness, deflection and at times defiance, employed, as diocese spokeswoman Sue Bernard said this week, "before we knew how to deal with these things."

"The Lauzon case was the first public accusation the diocese ever had," Bernard said. "It's really not fair to judge the diocese's reaction (to the child molestation crisis) by the first time the diocese ever confronted this issue."

Anthony Matthews, now 34 and beset by an emotional disability, would respectfully disagree.

"They called me a whore and a prostitute," he said. "I was 9 years old when I first met this man. . . . We're not talking about adults here. We're talking about children."

A llegations against Lauzon have long reverberated throughout the Diocese of Portland. The case spawned headlines first when criminal charges were filed in 1984, and again when the Matthews brothers and others filed civil lawsuits against Lauzon in the 1990s.

But those were different times, long before individual complaints against priests snowballed into the crisis that envelops a new diocese almost daily. The thick Lauzon file, once a startling aberration, now offers insights and perhaps lessons for a church that fought its accusers at every turn.

One lesson is obvious. For all its efforts first to keep Lauzon out of almost constant trouble and finally to defend him against a felony indictment and a civil lawsuit, the diocese cannot say it wasn't warned.

Dispatched in 1949 by then-Bishop Daniel J. Feeney to study at St. Paul's Seminary in Ottawa, Canada, Lauzon returned to Maine two years later with little hope of joining the priesthood. Describing him in a written report as "not quite normal, lacking maturity," seminary officials told Feeney "we deem it only fair to him and to Mother Church to let him out."

"The Directors feel that they are relieving Your Excellency of a problem child by turning this young man away," the report stated. "Better now than later."

Yet Lauzon persisted. Accompanied by his parish priest from Westbrook, he persuaded the bishop to give him another chance and send him to the Grand Seminary in Montreal. There, despite what Feeney later called "doubtful observations about his manners and lack of tact," Lauzon received his holy orders and was ordained on June 4, 1955.

"I've had trouble with him ever since 1955," Feeney would write in a letter nine years later.

It was no exaggeration.

According to the court files, Lauzon's career as a priest was pockmarked by protests not only from pastors who wanted nothing to do with him, but also from congregations who pleaded for the diocese to remove him from their midsts.

"He loves to visit families in the parish, practically every night, he comes in at midnight," the Rev. Eugene Bettez of St. Mark's Parish in Sheridan complained in a letter to Feeney in 1959. "This morning he came in at 12:45 a.m."

Noting that Lauzon was "lazy" and had referred to the parish, from the pulpit, as "this damn hole," Bettez asked, "Am I supposed to put up with this nonsense?. . . Please Bishop remove this man from this parish, for my own good and for the betterment of the parish."

The following year, while Lauzon was assigned to Notre Dame Church in Waterville, the Rev. Frederick Carpentier reported to Feeney that a parishioner recuperating from surgery had "begged" that Lauzon stop coming to his home. The parishioner "was losing hold of his daughter, an eighth-grade girl," the pastor reported without elaborating.

Four years later, responding to an inquiry from the church's Apostolic Delegation in Washington, D.C., Feeney lamented that his efforts to find a place in the diocese for Lauzon had all led to disaster, and that his decision to send him to a second seminary was "my great error."

"He is known for a vile tongue, language wholly out of place for a priest. Words such as 'whorehouse, bastards, pig pens' are reported as common," Feeney wrote. He concluded, "This man is a 'nut.' "

S till, Lauzon remained a priest. By 1965 he was assigned as an assistant pastor to St. Joseph's Parish in Portland, where he quickly established a clothing and furniture shop for the needy. It would come to be known as St. Joseph the Provider and it would be his assignment - the Matthews boys and others now say his cover - for the next 19 years.

"If there was a revolution around here, I'd be the first to get shot," Lauzon boasted to a Maine Sunday Telegram reporter in 1971, after St. Joseph the Provider had expanded into a new location on Exchange Street in the heart of the yet-to-be-reborn Old Port.

At one point during that interview (the subsequent full-page story called him "a prince in priest's clothing"), Lauzon showed the reporter a jagged scar on his arm - inflicted by a young man who, Lauzon said, had actually tried to slash him in the head. Nowhere in the story does Lauzon explain why.

Another article, again positive, ran in 1978 along with a photograph titled "Comfortable Clutter." It shows Lauzon, his trademark pipe in his mouth, sitting behind a mound of donated clothing and chatting with a boy identified as Charles Matthews.

Charles is Anthony's brother.

"He performed oral sex on me," Charles replied, when asked during a deposition in 1995 what happened between him and Lauzon while Charles worked as a teen-ager at St. Joseph the Provider.

In the deposition, Charles went on to tell how Lauzon sometimes would give him alcohol before sexually abusing him at the shop. He also told how on two occasions, Lauzon brought him to St. Dominic's Rectory for lunch and then, with another priest and the housekeeper downstairs in the kitchen, sexually abused him in Lauzon's upstairs bedroom.

Charles was not the only one who made such allegations. According to court records, five of the Matthews brothers - Robert, Charles, Anthony, Joseph and Dana - said they were molested by Lauzon over a period that began in the 1970s and continued into the 1980s. All eventually reached confidential settlements with the diocese.

In separate cases that also led to settlements with the diocese, Steven and David Simard, who grew up next door to the Matthews brothers on Front Street, also claimed Lauzon molested them.

The court records reveal the same pattern: The victims allege that Lauzon, along with at least two other men with whom he often associated, used alcohol, money and gifts from the shop to coerce them into taking off their clothes and submitting to his sexual advances.

"As a child, I kind of admired that about (Lauzon)," Anthony recalled in his own deposition. "That he was entrusting me with adult things. . . . The way he controlled and manipulated was to self-empower kids and make them feel like adults . . . by offering them alcohol saying, you know, you're a man. . . . Let's go down to the second floor so I can (molest) you."

Over time, word got out that St. Joseph the Provider was not all it appeared to be.

Madeline Shane, who lived on Munjoy Hill from 1976-77, said in a 1995 affidavit that a man describing himself as Lauzon's "lover" had told her in detail how he and Lauzon sexually abused young boys at the thrift shop. After "one particularly disturbing" conversation with the man, she decided to report it to church authorities.

Shane said she approached two priests - one at a soup kitchen, the other at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception - and was told by both that the church "would handle it." After months passed with no apparent action, she called the chancery office and was connected to a man who told her he was "second in command."

"I told him everything I knew," she said. "He accused me of lying, and when I told him I was telling the truth, he said he would pass the information on and that there would be an investigation. I never heard anything more from the man I spoke to."

Shane said she persisted, telling two priests at St. Mary's in Westbrook what she'd heard.

"The first priest reprimanded me for lying but claimed the church would deal with it," she said. "The second priest assured me that there would be an investigation but I never heard anything further from either of them."

During the civil lawsuit years later, diocese officials said they had no record of Shane's call to the chancery or her reports to any of the four priests, and thus could not overcome "the difficulty of either verifying or refuting Ms. Shane's assertion."

Another red flag was raised during the early 1980s when the Rev. Andrew Siket, a young priest studying for his law degree, reported to Ford, then the diocesan chancellor, that he'd overheard one of the Matthews brothers telling someone about how Lauzon had abused him.

In a deposition taken in 1996, Ford said he could "vaguely recall" telling then-Auxiliary Bishop Amedee W. Proulx what Siket had said. Ford said Proulx later told him he'd spoken with Lauzon and decided the report was groundless.

Ford, known to this day at the chancery as a copious note-taker, also said at the time that there was no written record of Siket's original report to him or Proulx's subsequent conversation with Lauzon.

It was the same assertion Ford made in 1984 when the police came knocking.

Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion was a Portland police detective when he first heard rumors in 1984 of an alleged blackmail scheme among members of a pedophile ring in Portland. He heard talk of photos of young boys posing in the nude and engaging in sex acts with each other - photos that had found their way to, among others, the Rev. Raymond Lauzon.

Dion saw the photos and recognized the Matthews brothers. Known to police by then as "street kids" who'd found their share of trouble as young teen-agers, they first resisted Dion's and other detectives' efforts to get to the bottom of the case. Eventually, however, they began answering questions.

"They were embarrassed," Dion said. "I think they knew in their hearts that this was wrong."

Anthony and Joseph Matthews emerged as the best victims on whom to build an indictment, Dion said, because the photos of them obtained by police showed "their victimization had spanned a number of years." While none of the photos showed Lauzon, he said, the investigation supported the boys' claims that the priest was among those who had repeatedly plied them with gifts, alcohol and money in exchange for their bodies.

"In my heart, they told the truth," Dion said. "But I had a hard time just convincing people to believe these kids."

And the church's reaction when he took his findings to the chancery?

"The church was hostile," Dion replied, noting that diocesan officials "refused to believe these kids because they were street kids and criminal offenders in their own right. But my position is that that is exactly why they were targeted."

What's more, he said, the diocese proposed at "one of the more bizarre" points in the investigation that, in exchange for the state dropping its probe, "they would transfer Father Lauzon to Boys Town."

"I was upset," Dion said. "Here I was a detective with no authority to negotiate on behalf of the whole department. . . . The whole tenor of the time was different."

The indictments against Lauzon, on two counts of gross sexual misconduct, came down in September 1984. A third felony charge, for tampering with a witness, was added after Lauzon persuaded Anthony Matthews to recant his story - an admission Anthony later made to police.

"I remember crying," Anthony said. "He told me he was going to go to jail for a long time if I didn't take back what I'd said. He told me he'd die in jail. I was scared."

On Feb. 13, 1985, Lauzon pleaded guilty to witness tampering, part of a plea bargain with then-District Attorney Paul Aranson that included dismissal of the two gross sexual misconduct charges.

"It would have been a tough case anyway," Aranson recalled last week, noting that Anthony's recantation, Joseph's sometimes shaky demeanor and the boys' tarnished juvenile records might not have played well in front of a jury. His assessment at the time, he said, was that convicting Lauzon on the felony tampering charge and putting him behind bars for six months was the best the state could expect.

Years would pass before the church's assessment of the case would emerge - not in a diocesan press release, but rather in material turned over after Anthony and his brothers decided in 1994 to sue.

Notes taken and signed by Ford, who as chancellor at the time met repeatedly with Lauzon and his attorneys to keep track of the case, focus on two recurring themes - supporting Lauzon's claims of innocence and heading off a public relations nightmare.

"Necessary for attorneys and church to hold hard to innocence," Ford wrote during a meeting on Sept. 26, 1984, five days after Lauzon's arraignment. "D.A. and media and public expected a guilty plea; they are now baffled. Important to quietly pursue investigation, gather facts, not to show hand - pressures on D.A. not to do homework."

During the same session, attended by Ford, defense attorneys Alexander MacNichol and Robert Napolitano, private investigator Dave Martino and Lauzon, Ford wrote "current scenario" and went on to make several notations under the word "trial:"

"Ask J.F. to review list of potential jurors."

"Insure that several priests attend . . . possibly sisters."

"Preparation of R.L. for examination."

"No judge will want to handle."

"Political repercussions for Aranson."

Another set of notes by Ford, also taken in 1984, begin with attorney MacNichol's name at the top and, halfway down, state that private investigator Martino "sniffed again."

In an apparent reference to Joseph Matthews, Ford wrote: "Young one is solid - any changes - all the truth. . . . Will not testify against the father."

Then, referring to Anthony, Ford wrote, "older one - vindictive queer." The final two words are underlined twice.

In an affidavit taken in 1997, and again in an interview last week, Ford said that while he may have written those words, "They are not mine."

"I was simply noting what was reported to me by Father Lauzon's attorneys," Ford said in the affidavit. "I was making notes of the facts and theories that they reported to me."

Repeated calls by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram to MacNichol, the attorney and retired judge whose name appears at the top of Ford's notes, were not returned this week.

Ford's notes are not the only portal into what church officials were thinking 18 years ago.

In a memo to then-Bishop Edward C. O'Leary and others dated July 13, 1984, as police pursued their investigation, Auxiliary Bishop Proulx reported that he had spoken with Lauzon, who "again mused at length on his 'dreams' regarding the 'Spirit of St. Francis' and a 'Boys Town.' "

"I tried to reassure him that no specific actions would be taken now without his involvement in the decisions," wrote Proulx, who died in 1993. "With stroking, he seemed more relaxed, but there is emotional hurt in seeing some of his dreams go down the drain."

Finally, there are the words of Bishop O'Leary, who led the diocese from 1974-88 and now lives in a nursing home. In a 1996 deposition, Kenneth Clegg, the Matthews brothers' attorney, asked O'Leary, "Who was the victim in this case?"

"Father Lauzon," replied O'Leary.

The Matthews' civil claims against Lauzon, who has lived at a Franciscan monastery in Lithuania since the mid-1990s and could not be reached for comment, were all settled by 1997 for an estimated $400,000. But as stories similar to his now engulf the entire Roman Catholic Church in controversy, Anthony Matthews maintains his case will never truly be closed.

He said he's speaking out now - and in the process breaking a confidentiality agreement he signed as part of his settlement - because he feels the church has yet to accept responsibility not only for its priest, but for its dogged defense of Lauzon at the expense of those who presented themselves as his victims.

What's more, Anthony said, the diocese promised as part of his settlement that he could "meet with an official of the diocese to discuss (Anthony's) concerns and suggestions." To this day, he said, "that has not happened."

"I never wanted to settle it," Anthony said. "I wanted it to go public. Money is fine, but it certainly didn't make amends for the blight he left on my family."

As for the church's position on Lauzon - who last year published a book titled "Vatican II: The Church Is Opening Up to the World" - it now depends on whom you ask.

Asked last week if he still considers Lauzon innocent, Ford replied, "Yes, I do."

Asked the same question, chancery spokeswoman Bernard said the diocese no longer "makes a judgment regarding criminal complaints. And this was a criminal complaint."

Several years ago, Anthony Matthews heard that Lauzon was on a summer visit to Maine and was scheduled to speak about Lithuania at a church in Kennebunk. Accompanied by his brother Joseph and Tristine Smith, an attorney who had worked on his case, Anthony sat in the audience and listened to Lauzon lament the poverty suffered by young children in Lithuania.

Finally, Anthony could hear no more. He stood and began to shout over the voice of the priest who, all these years later, still had the pulpit.

"I told the people, 'You shouldn't be listening to him! Instead, you should listen to what he did to me!' "

Several men forcibly removed Anthony and Joseph Matthews from the church and escorted them to their car. Police then followed them to the town line and advised them to stay away from the church.

But Smith, the attorney, lingered long enough to hear Lauzon's final words on this most embarrassing of outbursts.

Looking out over the stunned congregation, Lauzon said, "I have no idea who those men were."

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