Four of Penobscot Tribal Nation Sue Maine Catholic Diocese Coverup of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Attorneys representing four more survivors of childhood sexual abuse by three different priests—all at St. Ann Parish in Indian Island, Maine—today filed civil complaints against the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland seeking to hold the diocese accountable for damages. 

The sexual abuse in three of these cases happened between 1972 and 1979 when three of the plaintiffs were between seven and 12 years old. The fourth occurred in 1987 when the fourth plaintiff was 16 years old. The complaints show how the priests preyed upon and groomed the children, using the prestige of their positions in the church and leveraging the children’s adverse childhood experiences to put them in positions of power to abuse.

Two of the survivors coming forward wish to remain anonymous at this time.  One survivor plans to be at a news conference.  

Abuse by Father Marcel L. Robitaille

In 1972, Father Marcel L. Robitaille was installed as a priest at St. Ann.  That same year, Dale N. Mitchell was approximately 12 years old when he was invited to serve as an altar boy. Mr. Mitchell’s complaint details how the priest would frequently isolate and sexually abuse him at the St. Ann’s Church rectory. 

Years later, in 1989, Father Robitaille was placed on administrative leave from St. Ann in Dexter, Maine (a different parish from the ‘St. Ann’ where the abuse occurred) by the Diocese following a report by four members of Robitaille’s family – three brothers and one nephew – alleging that they had all been sexually abused by the priest for years from 1966 to 1989. According to newspaper reports at the time, the Bishop sent Robitaille out of state to a purported “rehabilitation and treatment center” for priests to do intensive evaluation and counseling. The Diocese later returned Robitaille to duty as a parish priest once it claimed there were no allegations from any parishioners and after consultation with a mental health expert. In total, Father Robitaille served as a diocesan employee and ranking official in 11 different assignments across Maine following his ordination on May 16, 1964.

Abuse by Father David Paul Cote

Two of the cases name Father David Paul Cote as the abuser. Cote’s assignment at St. Ann on Indian Island took effect in January 1978.  Two local boys were honored to be invited to serve as altar boys then. They each describe how Cote would arrange “sleepovers” at the rectory nearly every weekend as a reward for their good service, whereas instead, Cote would repeatedly isolate and sexually assault them. The two survivors of Cote’s abuse filing claims are Kurt D. Francis who was approximately 10 and 11 years old at the time, and an anonymous Plaintiff who was approximately 10 years old then. In total, the Diocese assigned Cote to nine different parishes across Maine following his ordination on May 18, 1968, as parish priest and also in administrative positions.

Abuse by Father Leo James Michaud

Father Leo James Michaud was assigned as Pastor of St. Ann on Indian Island from 1987 through 1995. In 1987 another anonymous plaintiff was 16 years old and working part-time as a groundkeeper for the church. Michaud coerced the plaintiff indoors and sexually assaulted him, causing serious physical injuries requiring medical treatment.

Michaud was removed from ministry in 2002 by then-Bishop of Portland Joseph J. Gerry following credible allegations of child sex abuse in the late 1970s.  

About the Catholic Penobscot Community on Indian Island

Indian Island is part of the ancestral homeland of the Penobscot Nation in Maine. St. Ann Church is one of the oldest in the U.S.  Historically a part of the former “Panawamské Parish,” it was established on the shores of the Penobscot River in 1668 by French-Catholic missionaries some 185 years before the establishment of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in 1853. It has since merged with several local parishes into the present-day “Parish of the Resurrection of the Lord,” which today serves communities in Old Town, Orono, Bradley, and the Penobscot Nation.

These lawsuits bring the total to 25 filed against the Portland Diocese by Berman & Simmons. Each outlines that the Diocese knew about other prior abuse generally, many specific abuses in Maine, chose to not stop it and fraudulently concealed knowledge that enabled priest abuse and failed to warn parishioner families of the sex abuse allegations against the priests.

Until the statute of limitations was lifted in 2021, these survivors had no legal path to hold the church and clergy accountable or to seek justice. These four new cases are filed in Penobscot County Superior Court and are expected to be assigned to the Business and Consumer Docket (BCD), before Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon.

Advocates from Maine sexual assault response agencies will be present to provide support for survivors.

Members of Berman & Simmons Sexual Abuse Survivors’ Practice Group include attorneys Michael Bigos, Timothy Kenlan, Elizabeth Kayatta, and Joe Gousse