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Associated Press

ELLSWORTH, Maine (AP) - Parishioners' emotions ranged from anger to sadness Sunday at the Roman Catholic St. Joseph's Church, where their priest had been removed with unusual swiftness after being accused of sexually abusing a minor.

Unlike the removal of two priests last month, Bishop Joseph Gerry did not solicit comment from parishioners when he removed the Rev. Leo James Michaud on Thursday, within a week of receiving a call from a man who said he had been abused.

Parish member Steve Downey, 55, said the congregation has compassion both for the victim and the priest.

"Of all the priests we've had here, he's done more good things for the church," Downey said. "It's quite a loss. He was a very good friend to a lot of people."

Michaud was accused of abusing a teenage boy he met through his ministry 25 years ago while attending the seminary at Catholic University in Washington, said Monsignor Marc Caron of the Portland Diocese.

His accuser said he had a relationship with Michaud from the age of 16 to 19, continuing for a month or so after Michaud was ordained in 1977.

Michaud's removal from the church in eastern Maine was announced to parishioners at Mass on Saturday night, the same day the bishop ran a half-page ad in state newspapers outlining the steps he was taking to deal with abuse problems.

"I want to acknowledge the suffering of victims of child sexual abuse, assure them of the support of the Catholic community, and apologize for the anguish caused by their abuse," Gerry said in the ad.

After Sunday morning Mass at St. Joseph's, where Michaud served for six years, parishioner Pat Reilly remembered Michaud for his "outstanding compassion."

"I have been practicing (Catholicism) for more than 50 years and I can't think of a priest who's more gifted as a minister. I'm deeply grieved by the loss to the community," Reilly said.

One angry parishioner accused the church leadership of making Michaud a "whipping boy" for larger problems within the church.

Michaud was reported to be staying with relatives and was unavailable for comment.

The allegation against him was handled much differently than those against the two priests removed from their parishes in northern Maine last month after they were accused of sexual abuse of minors.

Gerry sought parishioners' views before deciding to remove them from their ministries.

At the same time, Gerry adopted a "zero tolerance" stance in which any priest facing a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is to be permanently removed from public ministry.

"The necessity really arose to avoid the appearance of tolerance of abuse of any minor," Caron said.

In his published message, Gerry said he was "recommitting myself to taking the necessary steps to heal victims and to prevent abuse in the future."

"Once again, I urge all victims to come forward. I want to reassure you that when someone comes forward, the diocese will pay for counseling; will offer spiritual counseling; and will apologize for their pain and suffering," Gerry said in his message.

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