PORTLAND — Two brothers who were altar boys in Maine in the 1970s are suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, claiming they learned recently that church officials knew the Rev. James Vallely was sexually abusing them and other children but did not act to stop it.
Jeffrey and Frederick Conroy each sued the diocese last week in Cumberland County Superior Court, saying Vallely, who is now dead, abused them from 1976 through 1979 while they were altar boys in St. Michael’s Parish in South Berwick.
Vallely is among eight deceased priests whom the diocese identified in 2005 as having been accused of sexually abusing children in Maine over decades.
His name was first connected publicly to abuse accusations in 1993, bringing the national issue to Maine’s religious community for the first time.
The Conroy brothers’ attorney, Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, said he has represented nine people who say they were abused by Vallely over the years, from about 1958 to 1979.
Garabedian, known nationally for representing victims in Boston’s clergy sex abuse scandal and a victim in the Jerry Sandusky abuse case at Penn State, said he has represented more than 1,500 victims of clergy members’ sexual abuse worldwide.
“The children were approximately 8 to 16 years old at the time of the abuse” by Vallely, said Garabedian. “The sexual abuse consisted of fondling and rape on multiple occasions, for years, of multiple children.”
Dave Guthro, a spokesman for Maine’s diocese, would not comment on the pending lawsuits Tuesday.
Jeffrey Conroy, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is now 45 and lives in Texas. Frederick Conroy, 46, lives in Massachusetts.
Vallely, who was born in Sanford, served in parishes in many Maine communities, including Portland and Bangor, starting in 1952. He was ordained in Massachusetts in 1949 and retired in 1988 because of illness. He died on Dec. 12, 1997, at the age of 75 at his winter home in Sun City, Fla.
Garabedian represented a woman who said she was abused by Vallely at St. Michael’s in 1976, when she was one of Maine’s first female altar servers. The woman, who was not publicly identified, reached a $200,000 settlement with the diocese in December 2009.
Garabedian said neither Conroy brother would comment while their lawsuits are pending, and they had authorized him to speak for them.
Garabedian said the brothers learned recently that the diocese had been informed about Vallely’s abuse of other children.
“In 1978, the diocese of Portland was notified that Father Vallely was assaulting minors, and the diocese did not act appropriately,” Garabedian said. “If the diocese had done so, it would have protected children from being sexually abused.”
Although the 1970s-era statute of limitations to sue has expired, Garabedian said he has made a legal claim that the diocese fraudulently concealed knowledge of abuse accusations against Vallely, which should reset the timetable, allowing them to sue.
“These cases are unique in that I was able to circumvent the statute of limitations in the state of Maine by a fraudulent-concealment claim,” Garabedian said.
The brothers are seeking undisclosed damages on multiple counts, including fraudulent concealment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring and supervision.
Marci Hamilton, a professor at Yeshiva University in New York who specializes in clergy-state law, said that under Maine’s current law, there is no statute of limitations on civil claims. The law was adopted in 1999.
“Maine is pretty good going forward. It’s not so good for people who have been sexually abused in the past,” Hamilton said.
A national support group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, issued a statement commending the Conroy brothers for coming forward.
“We hope this step will help these courageous men heal. We are confident it will help Maine Catholics learn more about corruption in the church’s hierarchy,” said the group’s director, David Clohessy, in a written statement.
Clohessy said in a phone conversation that about 300 Catholic officials in the United States were accused of sexually abusing children. “We still hear from new victims literally every day.”
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