Portland diocese confirms abuse by Catholic priest

Associated Press / October 20, 2009

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WINTHROP, Maine - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has confirmed that a priest sexually abused at least two people more than 60 years ago and instructed that any tributes to him at the church be removed.

Bishop Richard Malone read a letter Saturday to parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Church in Winthrop that said the abuse took place between 1936 and 1949 while the Rev. Joseph R. McGowan served as pastor at the church. McGowan died in 1962 at the age of 72.

Malone directed the removal of any memorials or tributes to McGowan, including a photo and a plaque at the church. The Winthrop council of the Knights of Columbus is removing McGowan’s name from its charter at the bishop’s request, church officials said.

Diocese spokeswoman Sue Bernard said she didn’t have the ages or gender of the victims because they have asked for anonymity. But the victims are at least in their 70s, with one likely to be in the mid-80s, she said.

“This has got to be one of the oldest cases we’ve been able to substantiate,’’ she said.

McGowan was ordained in 1920 and served at churches in Augusta, Portland, and Winthrop before retiring in 1957.

A 78-year-old man in 2002 told diocese officials that McGowan had molested him for two years until he was 15, but that charge was never confirmed.

The diocese received the two latest complaints this summer.