Parishioners supporting St. John Valley priest in wake of unspecified allegations
FORT KENT, Maine — Parish and community members rallied Wednesday behind the Rev. James L. Nadeau whose sudden leave of absence from his post as pastor of St. John Vianney Parish took his flock by surprise.
The voluntary leave was announced late Tuesday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Maine attorney general’s office, which is conducting an investigation of unspecified allegations against the 51-year-old priest.
“I am very saddened by this whole thing,” Norma Landry, past chairwoman of the St. John Vianney Parish Council, said Wednesday morning. “Nobody really knows what is going on [and] in times like this I always turn to prayer.”
The allegations and subsequent leave taking by Nadeau could not have come at a worse time for the parish’s practicing Catholics.
This past Sunday marked the start of Holy Week, the most important span of days in the Catholic calendar, culminating with Easter this Sunday.
“Holy Week is what we wait for all year long,” Landry said. “This is the start of our faith and for this to happen this week is really sad.”
Neither Bishop Richard Malone nor the officials with the attorney general’s office have commented on specifics of the allegations.
“In order for the investigation to proceed unimpeded Father Nadeau has taken a voluntary leave of absence,” Malone said in a press release issued Tuesday. “The Diocese is cooperating fully with the Attorney General’s Office.”
“As in any investigation, it’s important to respect the presumption of innocence,” Brenda Kielty, spokeswoman for the Maine attorney general’s office, said in the same release. “It is also important not to jump to conclusions about the nature of the allegations.
When reached Wednesday, Kielty said her office does not comment on investigations.
Malone already was scheduled to celebrate the Mass of the Oils on Wednesday night and will keep to that schedule.
In the absence of Nadeau, the diocese plans to assign a priest temporarily to the parish to meet the spiritual needs of its members.
St. John Vianney Parish comprises St. Louis Catholic Church in Fort Kent, St. Mary Catholic Church in Eagle Lake, St. Charles Catholic Church in St. Francis and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Soldier Pond.
“The temporary priest will serve all those churches,” Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese, said on Wednesday. She did not know exactly when a temporary priest would be selected or how long he would be needed.
“We have no idea how long that will be, but he will be on assignment for as long as needed,” Bernard said.
Parish staff and members of the St. John Vianney Parish Council would not comment on the allegations Wednesday, and office workers at the rectory were unsure where Nadeau was on Wednesday.
“We all love him,” Doris Daigle, longtime parish community member, said Wednesday afternoon at a local restaurant. “He has done so much for this parish.”
Daigle worked for Nadeau in 1987 when he was a vicar assigned to Fort Kent.
“He was wonderful to work for and was very good to me,” Daigle said. “With these allegations it is important as Christians we not judge.”
Her friend Joan Dow, who works at Mercy Home, an Eagle Lake care facility, said the entire town of Eagle Lake is behind their priest.
“I was blown away by all this when I heard about it,” said Helen Nadeau of Fort Kent. “It has got to be a mistake.”
All three women agreed Nadeau’s main concern was for his parishioners, a feeling echoed by Landry.
“I was chair of the [parish] council during the big flood of 2008,” Landry said. “All he wanted during that time was to make sure his flock was OK.”
A newly renovated St. Louis Church received major damage in May 2008 when the St. John and Fish rivers overran their banks in one of the worst floods in Fort Kent’s history.
“He was more about ‘what can I do’ than ‘what can be done for the church building,’” Landry said. “He is simply a wonderful human being for all ages — he reaches to the young, to the old and to the medium.”
As a show of support, parishioners scheduled a special saying of the rosary Wednesday afternoon at the St. Louis Catholic Church in Fort Kent.
The impromptu rosary was just one indication of the community’s faith in their priest, Daigle said.
“My grandchildren came up from downstate to get baptized by Father [Nadeau],” she said. “That should really tell you something.”
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