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  'If It Hadn't Happened, How Less Sick Would I Be?'
Maureen Bickford Says She 'Turned into a Little Punk' after Sexual Abuse by the Rev. Lawrence Sabatino

By John Richardson
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
June 5, 2005

Maureen Bickford was part of the Sodality at St. Peter's Catholic Church, an after-school program for kids held in the parish hall.

And, she says, she became one of the girls the Rev. Lawrence Sabatino chose to play hide-and-seek with him or go with him on outings to the woods or the beach.

Sabatino sexually abused her repeatedly when she was between the ages of 8 and 11, Bickford said. About 20 years later, as she was walking home from work in the same Munjoy Hill neighborhood, images of those incidents flooded her mind and stopped her in her tracks.

"I just started bawling. I was miserable," she recalled.

Bickford, now 52, would later remember more details, such as how dark it was behind the heavy velvet curtains on the wooden stage in the parish hall.

"We used to do this hide-and-seek game," she said. "That's the first place he ever touched me - behind the curtain."

He would put his hands on her, and inside her, and would grind himself against her, she said. "He would press against you so you could not get away," she said.

In one memory, Sabatino took her to a beach in Scarborough and told a group of boys to carry her, kicking and screaming, to him. She remembers kicking one of the boys in the face and Sabatino grabbing her leg.

Bickford, who grew up in Bayside and attended Cathedral School, said she remembers telling a nun about the incidents, although she can't remember the nun's name.

"She got really angry with me, and said, 'You go telling lies like that and God will punish you.' I never told anybody else."

She didn't want to go back to the after-school program. "I tried to quit, but they wouldn't let me."

Bickford would retreat to the Eastern Prom overlooking Casco Bay and find a private spot to sit or lie in the sun. She still feels most comfortable there today talking about her memories.

At the time, she was a shy, skinny girl, adopted and raised by devout Catholics and vulnerable to a priest who always told her how special she was.

The abuse changed her, she said. "I just turned into a little punk."

Her grades fell. She got into trouble, sometimes suspended from school, for smoking and other misbehavior. She remembers being raped at 14 and wanting to be loved and nurtured but finding abusive relationships.

Bickford married at 18 and divorced at 23, the mother of two children. She continued to get in trouble as an adult. In 1978 she went to jail for harboring a fugitive.

She later became a social worker, helping to care for other people in difficult circumstances.

It took years of on-and-off therapy and learning about abuse to understand how the priest's actions had affected her, she said.

Today she struggles with depression, post-traumatic stress and fibromyalgia, a condition that can be triggered by stress or emotional trauma. It causes her pain and memory lapses and forced her to give up a good-paying job three years ago and rely on disability insurance.

"The financial impacts have made everything worse," she said.

But Bickford considers herself strong, in spite of the abuse or, perhaps, because of it.

Bickford married her childhood sweetheart from Portland in 1989 and moved to Windham. She continues to look after her kids, all grown, and other family members. And she has faced her memories and talked about them, something she believes others have not been able to do.

The news reports of sexual abuse in the church brought the memories and frustration to the surface again during the past several years. "He was never mentioned, and I always got angry," she said.

When she found out Sabatino was dead, she went to dinner and had a couple of drinks, she said. "I said to my husband, 'He won't be hurting other kids.' "

Bickford doesn't blame Sabatino and the church for every problem or bad decision in the past 40 years, she said. But it has been a shadow over her whole life.

"That was the basis upon which I valued myself and how I grew up. . . . All I wanted was for someone to like me," she said. "If it hadn't happened to me, how much more of a successful person would I be? How less sick would I be? It makes me angry."

At least, she said, what Sabatino did is no longer a secret. "He can't be protected anymore," she said.

 
 

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