Monday, January 26, 2009

In self-published book, Fairfield woman tells of priest who fathered her son

By Amy Calder
Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD -- Judy Soucier sits in her Fairfield living room and talks tenderly about the Roman Catholic priest who fathered her child 36 years ago, but who would not commit to a lifelong relationship.

"He still was the man I loved," she says. "He still is, to this day."

Soucier, 65, wrote a book about her love affair with the priest called "Perfect: A Love Story."

Self-published in 2008 as an autobiographical work, but with characters that have fictional names, it describes the priest's alleged, but futile, attempts to convince Soucier to abort her child and the church's alleged insistence that she go out-of-state to have the baby and then give it up for adoption. She was 28 at the time; he was 36.

Soucier now identifies the priest as the Rev. Marcel Dumoulin, who until 2004 served as pastor at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Fairfield. He also served at parishes in Augusta and Winthrop. Dumoulin, 73, lives at a nursing-care facility in Lewiston, where he has Alzheimer's disease. Their son, Christian Soucier, is 36 and lives in New York City.

Catholic priests are required to be celibate; however, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland last week acknowledged that Dumoulin fathered Soucier's son. But the Diocese says the church would never support an abortion, as the book suggests, and would not encourage a woman to give her child up for adoption if she did not want to do that.

Soucier took Dumoulin to court in Androscoggin County on Nov. 17, 1983, seeking child support when her boy was 11. The court awarded Soucier a lump sum of $6,000, plus monthly payments until he was 18. The case was entitled "Judith Soucier vs. Marcel Dumoulin."

Soucier says she didn't at first plan to publish her story, which she initially wrote as a memoir intended for just her son, Christian Soucier.

"I wrote it because I wanted to give it to my son for Christmas in 2006," she says.

But she self-published the book and approached the Morning Sentinel after friends and family read the manuscript and convinced her it was a story she needed to share with the world.

"They said, 'This must be told.'"

Romance turns a corner

Soucier's book recounts her life as a teacher, friend, daughter and lover of the sea whose life takes an unexpected turn when she meets a Roman Catholic priest -- Dumoulin -- who in the book is called Matthew, in Lewiston, and falls in love. It forever changes her life.

The book is set mainly in Brunswick and Lewiston, where Soucier lived in the 1970s. It describes a happy romance that turns sour when she becomes pregnant.

Father Matthew takes her to a trailer at the edge of what now is a parking lot for the Marden's Surplus & Salvage store in Lewiston. There, they meet with a tall minister and the two men arrange for her to have an abortion.

Matthew then drives her to a clinic in New York City and she is prepped for the abortion, but she cannot go through with it. The book describes in detail the events that took place when Dumoulin drove her to New York for the abortion and she decided not to have the procedure, she said.

They drove home in silence. Once back in Maine, a diocesan vicar asked her to come to St. Paul's Retreat Center in Augusta. Once she arrived, the vicar urged her to leave the state, have the baby and give it up for adoption but she refused, she said. She met with him again in Portland at his request and he was unsuccessful in trying to convince her to go away, have the child and offer it for adoption. That vicar has since died.

Soucier says that afterward, another priest came to her home and said he was a messenger from the bishop, who asked that she leave the state, have the baby and give it up for adoption.

The priest allegedly offered her an envelope containing cash and said the money was separate from any travel and medical expenses, which would be paid by the church. Soucier said she did not accept it.

"He brought $3,000 and said, 'This is for you, and all arrangements and expenses will be paid,'" Soucier said.

That priest also has since died.

'Why take the back door?'

After she gave birth to her son, Soucier had minimal contact with Dumoulin; their romance ended after she became pregnant, she said.

The last time she saw him at the nursing home several months ago, his mind was merely a shell of what it once was.

"He didn't even know me," she said. "It's just very sad."

Soucier's cousin and lifelong friend, Yvette Rousseau, accompanied her on that visit.

Rousseau, 73, of Lewiston, introduced Soucier to Dumoulin many years ago and her character is featured in the book. Rousseau was a parishioner in Dumoulin's church, The Holy Family Church in Lewiston, and he was a close friend who spent time with her and her family during picnics, parties and snowmobiling trips, she said.

Rousseau, now retired after 52 years of nursing, describes herself as a devout Catholic who is disturbed by the way the church handled Soucier's pregnancy.

"I think the true message is, why doesn't the church deal with their problems the right way?" she says. "Why take the back door? Why hide it and deal with these poor little children that could have been put up for adoption or aborted? I kind of blame the church for not taking a stand. That's why the church has gotten away with so much. The Catholic Church has to take a stand on important issues."

Rousseau says her first husband reported Dumoulin's love affair with Soucier to the bishop and after that, Dumoulin stopped visiting her family for a while. She and her husband ultimately divorced and he has since died.

Rousseau says Dumoulin never acknowledged to her or anyone in her family or circle of friends that Soucier's baby was his.

"He always kind of beat around the bush about it but never actually came right out to say, 'I have a son and Judy was the mother,'" Rousseau said. "He never was honest about it. I think now, why wasn't he truthful? As close as we were, he never told us. I always felt bad about that."

Rousseau says it was as if his position as a priest was more important to him than anything else.

"He never let down his guard. The worst part was, he was trying to get rid of the child. I don't know how he could sleep at night and then preach in the pulpit. I just feel like he goofed, big time, and so did the bishop."

But despite Dumoulin's foibles, Rousseau still holds an affection for him.

"He made a mistake, he goofed, but he is human. He made a big mistake. But he's still Father Dumoulin."

She says there is no question in her mind that Soucier is telling the truth about his plans for her abortion and the church's subsequent attempts to send her away to have the baby and then give it up for adoption.

"It all took place," she says. "I've always admired her for staying strong and taking a stand. She's the strong one."

Nancy Snow is another longtime friend of Soucier who is featured as a character in the book. She saw Dumoulin and Soucier together in the early 1970s. Snow says she also admires her for carrying her baby to term and raising him, despite pressure to do otherwise.

A retired 33-year teacher, Snow, 75, of Brunswick, describes Soucier as someone who loves children and is very good with older people.

"She's very kind, and if she does something, she takes on a project and she does it 110, 120 percent. She always, always went above and beyond."

Snow says she hopes big things happen with Soucier's book, which is being sold in bookstores and on the Internet.

"I thought it was wonderful and I think it would make a great movie."

'Mon dieu. It comes back'

Father Dumoulin smiles and welcomes a guest at the nursing-care facility in Lewiston, where he shares a small room with another patient.

The retired priest appears cheerful, lounging in a recliner, wearing casual clothes and sporting a navy blue beret.

He talks easily, but does not seem to have a grasp of history. Asked when he left Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Fairfield, he says he does not remember.

But, shown a photograph of Soucier, his face lights up immediately.

"That is good," he says. "She's good. Judy Soucier. Mon dieu. It comes back. She's so good, kind, you know. Look how beautiful that is. Oh, it's good."

He then touches the paper on which the photo is printed.

"That was the lady that was the best for me, you know?" he says. "Tres bien. It's wonderful."

The neat, simply decorated room has puzzles, books, and photographs on a table.

The only clues to Dumoulin's spiritual past are a crucifix that hangs on a wall and small statues of Mary and Jesus on a bureau.

'I still try to fly'

Dumoulin's son, Christian Soucier, is an environmental consultant and marine biologist, married and living in New York City.

He declines to talk about his relationship with Dumoulin, other than to say he is not comfortable discussing it because of the priest's advanced age and medical condition.

The book, he says, is his mother's story, not his own.

"I support her 100 percent," he said. "It made her strong. What I'm most proud of is where we are today. She gave me an opportunity to go out and try to fly. I still try to fly, every day."

He says his mother worked hard all his life to provide for him and make sure he went to college -- even working with pregnant and parenting teens, ironically, for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Christian Soucier ultimately earned a Ph.D in biology with a focus on ecology evolution and behavior.

"I think that, obviously, a lot of what she experienced in our situation drove her to the career path that she took," he says. "It was the ultimate sacrifice."

When he read the book, he was horrified by the treatment his mother received, he says.

"It's true hypocrisy -- there's no doubt," he says. "The hypocrisy of the church in instances like these is appalling."

He hopes the book's release provides closure for his mother, whom he never knew to have a relationship with a man while he was growing up. He says he learned why, after reading it: She long harbored a great love for Dumoulin that continues to this day.

Judy Soucier says she chose a life of celibacy after her breakup with Dumoulin.

After giving birth, she stayed home for three years to raise her son and then went back to work as a social worker for the Diocese for 11 years. She then worked for the March of Dimes for 21 years.

Judy Soucier was adopted at birth, grew up in the Catholic church in Lewiston and describes her adoptive family as loving, caring and very supportive. After her parents died, she searched for her birth-family members and found them in 2003. She moved to Fairfield to be near them in 2007.

She describes herself as a Christian but stops short of saying she is Catholic.

"I go to church, but I go to the church God built," she says, referring to nature. "I went to the Catholic church until I was pregnant with Christian. I've always believed in God. I've never lost my faith. Actually, I think I have a deeper, stronger faith than I ever did. I do know that the reason I have Christian today is, God wanted him on this earth."

Church acknowledges Dumoulin fatherhood, but takes issue with other details

By Amy Calder
Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel

The Rev. Marcel Dumoulin never denied that he fathered Judy Soucier's child, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said last week.

"We have a fair amount of documentation on this," Diocese spokeswoman Susan Bernard said Tuesday.

But Bernard said the Diocese has no information in its files that would indicate Dumoulin ever tried to convince Soucier get an abortion, nor that other priests urged her to go out-of-state to have the baby and give it up for adoption.

Soucier says her book about her love affair with the priest is true; only the names are fictional.

But Bernard takes issue with Soucier's claim, made in the book and to the Morning Sentinel, that plans were made for Soucier to have an abortion and that Dumoulin drove her to New York to a clinic with the expectation that she would go through with it. She said that is the worst claim Soucier makes in the book.

"The Catholic Church is very much against abortion, so I have a hard time believing a discussion encouraging abortion would take place with anyone," Bernard said. "And again, there is nothing in our files that shows anything like that. This is a story from the mother's point of view and there is no one who can refute it."

Dumoulin, she said, is not in a position where he can defend himself against the claim.

"He's been suffering from Alzheimer's for a long time," she said.

Soucier's book, "Perfect: A Love Story," chronicles her love affair with Dumoulin in the early 1970s and her resulting pregnancy. She says she fought priests' attempts to get her to abort or give the child up for adoption, and ultimately, she gave birth to a boy and raised him alone.

The book describes one vicar's efforts to urge her twice to go out of state to give birth and then give the baby up for adoption. He has since has died.

Soucier also said a parish priest visited her while she was pregnant and told her he was a messenger from the bishop and that the bishop wanted her to go out of state, have the child and give it up for adoption. She said he gave her an envelope containing $3,000 cash and said the money was for her, and that all other expenses for the birth and adoption would be paid by the church.

Bernard acknowledged she has not read Soucier's book. She said she has no information about any such attempts by the vicar to urge her to give the child up for adoption.

"That would have been in his record and Father Dumoulin's record and I've gone through the whole thing," she said.

She said she did not recognize the name of the priest Soucier said had approached her as a messenger from the bishop and offered her $3,000. Soucier, however, said he was a priest in Lewiston and later baptized her son, Christian, at her home.

Asked if a priest fathering a child is an unusual occurrence, Bernard said: "It certainly isn't something that happens every day. Of course it's unusual. Priests take a vow of celibacy."

If a priest finds himself in a situation where he falls in love with a woman or is drawn to a woman, he is supposed to go to a superior, usually a bishop or other spiritual director, and tell him what he is feeling, Bernard said.

"They are encouraged to take time and discern what they want because the church does not want to have priests in the church who are confused or don't want to be there," she said.

In Dumoulin's case, that did occur, she said, referring to Dumoulin's going to a superior with his situation.

"I think it may have happened after she got pregnant," Bernard said. "It's not 100 percent clear on the documents but it looks as if Father Dumoulin came, I believe, to the bishop and said, 'This is what's going on. There's this woman and she's pregnant and she is going to have my baby...' "

She said Dumoulin made a decision that he still wanted his vocation and recommitted to that vocation. Church officials said he needed to be responsible to the child, but did not force him to leave his vocation or to marry, according to Bernard.

Bernard said Dumoulin was born in Lewiston and attended grammar school in QuŽbec, Canada, and Rumford. He then attended high school at St. Charles Seminary in Sherbrooke, QuŽbec. At the time, one could choose to go to the seminary while in high school, Bernard said. Dumoulin attended the Seminary of Philosophy in Montreal and the Grand Seminary of Montreal.

During his 33 years as a pastor, he was assigned at parishes in Old Town, Lewiston, Chisolm, Biddeford, Auburn, Bradley, Grand Isle, Winthrop, Berwick, Augusta and Fairfield. In Augusta, he served at St. Augustine Parish; in Winthrop, at St. Francis Xavier, Bernard said.

"He retired in 2004, but he was not well at all in 2004 and really being very much helped along for some time, even in 2004," she said.

Bernard said Dumoulin was not disciplined for his actions.

"It's not a crime," she said. "This is not about a crime, to father a child. He certainly did break his vow of celibacy and that is a mistake to do that."

As to Soucier's claim that she was urged to give the baby up for adoption, Bernard said the church supports the concept of adoption but if that is not what a person wants, the church would not encourage it.

"We think adoption is a wonderful thing," Bernard said, "but in this particular case, I have no reason to believe the church would have strongly advocated for it."

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