A Roman Catholic priest who participated in sexually explicit E-mail exchanges on a now-defunct Web site for gay clergy received a rousing standing ovation when he apologized to parishioners. The Reverend Normand Richard apologized during weekend services at Holy Family Catholic Church in Old Town, Maine, upon his return from vacation. "I apologize and ask forgiveness," Richard told parishioners. "I want to continue to serve the parish, but if you feel my presence would be divisive, then I would not want to be the cause of such division." The Reverend Anthony Kuzia, a diocesan vicar for priests, led the celebrations of mass at the church. "People were glad Father was there and back in the parish," said Theresa Maher, a member of the parish crisis team. She said that as far as she knew, no parish members planned to ask Bishop Joseph J. Gerry to replace Richard.
Last week the diocese confirmed that Richard had been one of three Maine priests who participated in sexually explicit E-mail exchanges on the St. Sebastian's Angels Web site, which was shut down in 2000. Richard's involvement was made public by the Maine chapter of the reform group Voice of the Faithful. The priest was disciplined but not suspended in 2000 for his involvement with the site. He also was sent away for treatment in 1991 after he had a relationship with a transitional deacon studying for the priesthood under his supervision, officials said. Richard told his parishioners that he got involved with the Web site with "the best of intentions." He said that when the site "deteriorated, I saw a need to remove myself from it completely" before its existence was made public. "I sought reconciliation and forgiveness," the priest said, referring to his confession about his involvement in the Web site. "I have remained faithful...though my sin has been publicly exposed."