BREMEN — A prominent priest who has served in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine for more than a quarter-century has been charged with delivering drugs to two jail inmates.

The Rev. Stephen Foote, 70, of Bremen is accused of trafficking in prison contraband at the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.

Charged with attempted trafficking in prison contraband are inmates Joshua Theriault-Patten, 25, of Bremen and Adam Shawley, 27, of Newport.

All three were arrested Nov. 1 on charges that they trafficked in suboxone, a synthetic opiate that typically is used to ease symptoms of opiate withdrawal but can be abused.

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Lt. Michael Murphy said Theriault-Patten had been a parishioner of Foote’s in the past and the priest often visited him in jail — sometimes simply visiting, sometimes bringing him suboxone. Shawley didn’t know Foote, but he associated with Theriault-Patten in jail.

“The inmates in the jail arranged for it to be sent to Mr. Foote, and he took it from there,” Murphy said. He said the inmates were using the drugs in jail, not distributing them.

The sheriff’s office seized 10 suboxone strips, valued at about $500 in jail, Murphy said. He didn’t have details about how the drugs got past jail security, and a jail administrator wouldn’t discuss specifics, saying generally that different types of visits call for different levels of security.

Foote was released on unsecured bail after his arrest, while Theriault-Patten and Shawley remained in custody. Authorities said the arrests stemmed from a monthlong investigation by the sheriff’s office, the jail and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maine in Portland released a statement Wednesday saying it was notified of Foote’s arrest on the afternoon of Nov. 1. The statement said the Right Rev. Stephen T. Lane, the diocese’s bishop, “receives this news with sadness and deep concern, and requests that Maine Episcopalians keep all parties in their prayers as we move through these difficult days.”

In an interview Wednesday, Lane said, “This is a sad event, and quite unusual.” A message left for Foote at his home was not returned. Foote’s attorney, William Avantaggio of Newcastle, declined to comment.

Foote is charged with a Class C crime, punishable by as much as five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. The inmates are charged with Class D crimes.

Murphy said Foote admitted to trafficking drugs but thought he was doing Theriault-Patten a favor. “He said that he thought he was helping the person by doing this,” Murphy said. “He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he thought he was helping him.”

Foote, who has been serving St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Augusta, is now on administrative leave. Lane said Foote was archdeacon of the diocese — a senior member of the bishop’s staff — from 1986 to 1990, and was dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland from 1990 to 2003.

Foote retired from that post in 2003, according to the bishop’s office, and had been serving most recently as a transition priest-in-charge at St. Mark’s in Augusta.

The Rev. Canon Nancy Platt of Augusta, a retired addiction counselor who was the longtime priest at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hallowell, said Foote was a skilled preacher who kept his congregations in good order.

She said Foote called her when he intended to strike up a friendship with Theriault-Patten. Platt has a son who has been in prison, she said, so Foote asked for her approval for the relationship.

“I didn’t give it to him,” she said. “I thought he was over-involved.”

She said Foote was inexperienced on the issue of addiction, but thought he could change Theriault-Patten outside of accepted, conventional methods of addiction counseling. “He felt like he was a good kid with no chance,” Platt said.

The men who are accused along with Foote have made frequent appearances on police blotters.

In 2010, Theriault-Patten was sentenced to eight years in prison, with five years suspended, and three years’ probation for robbery and aggravated assault.

State records show that in 2011, Shawley was sentenced in Penobscot County Superior Court to four years in prison for trafficking in scheduled drugs.

In its statement, the diocese said that it would cooperate fully with the criminal investigation, and that Foote’s arrest triggered the church’s “disciplinary process for clergy that is canonically required.”

Vicki Wiederkehr, the diocese’s canon for formation and transition ministry, said she announced Lane’s discipline to St. Mark’s parishioners at a service on Nov. 4. She said the diocese is working to get another priest to the church.

Platt said Episcopalians are feeling the damage from the incident.

“He’s 70,” she said of Foote, “and I don’t see how he can get out of this without some prison time. … Everybody’s shocked.”

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com