May 18, 2005

Details sought in priest removal

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— A Maine activist yesterday called on Bishop Richard Malone to explain why the Rev. Michael J. Sheridan was dismissed from the Portland Diocese and sent back to Worcester this weekend after the priest was allegedly involved in an inappropriate incident with a female inmate at a northern Maine jail.

The Portland Diocese declined to discuss details, other than to say it was a personnel matter. Michael Povich, district attorney for Washington and Hancock counties, also declined to discuss specifics on Monday, but indicated it was an interaction between the priest and a woman, part of which was caught on videotape by jail staff. He said no criminal conduct had occurred. Bishop Malone of Portland said the priest was involved in prison ministry.

Paul Kendrick of Cumberland, Maine, a founder of the Maine Voice of the Faithful Chapter and member of the St. Ignatius Voice of the Faithful affiliate in Portland, said the bishop not only needs to give details of what happened at the Washington County jail, but needs to go into the parishes served by Rev. Sheridan to see if there are people who might be victims.

Michael Swett, spokesman for Maine VOTF, said the organization was pleased that Bishop Malone took the actions that he did in removing Rev. Sheridan immediately, and hopes that the Worcester bishop will do the same. Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester said Monday that Rev. Sheridan no longer can serve as a priest in Worcester or elsewhere.

Mr. Kendrick said he understood that Rev. Sheridan, in addition to serving in parishes in Machias and Cherryfield, was involved in prison ministry at the jail. He said that if the priest was sexually involved with a female inmate this would be “sexual exploitation of women.” Exploitation of women remains “a major issue” in the Catholic Church, Mr. Kendrick said.

Many people do not believe consensual sex between adults should be construed as exploitation, he said, but the relationship would be inappropriate if he was in prison ministry and this woman was an inmate, Mr. Kendrick said.

In a letter to parishioners of Holy Name in Machias and St. Michael’s Mission, Cherryfield, Bishop Malone said Rev. Sheridan had planned to return to Worcester next month, but the bishop learned on May 7 that he had violated the diocesan ethics code. The Portland Diocese covers all of Maine.

The diocese opened an investigation May 9, “and by Thursday I was convinced that serious violations of the code” did occur, Bishop Malone said. He met with Rev. Sheridan and told him he no longer could function as a priest in Maine “and that he should return to his own diocese immediately,” he said. He told parishioners that the Worcester Diocese was informed of his actions. Bishop McManus said he also removed Rev. Sheridan’s permission to function as a priest in Worcester or elsewhere and was awaiting a full report from the Portland Diocese.

Rev. Sheridan, 56, left Worcester for northern Maine about 10 years ago. He never became a priest of the Maine diocese, although he ministered there with permission of the Maine bishop. Ordained in Worcester in 1975, he remained a priest of the Worcester Diocese. The diocesan directory lists 16 priests of the Worcester Diocese who are ministering elsewhere, in locations ranging from Peru to the Vatican, and a number of places within the United States and the armed services.

“Let me state very clearly, these violations do not involve any misconduct with minors. It is a personnel matter involving the church’s own ethical standards and is being dealt with in an appropriate manner,” Bishop Malone said.

The bishop during the weekend sent members of the diocesan crisis team into the parishes to meet with parishioners and answer questions.

Posted by kshaw at May 18, 2005 10:56 AM