6 more women sue the Maine Catholic diocese for allegations of sex abuse

Bangor Daily News [Bangor ME]

March 8, 2023

By Julie Harris

f you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

Six more women have sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, alleging that a Portland priest abused them between 1958 and 1967 when they were between 5 and 11 years old.

Ann Allen, 64, of Scarborough  filed a suit in December, saying that the Rev. Lawrence Sabatino had assaulted her in the 1960s and that the church failed to prevent it. Allen’s suit names the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and its head, Bishop Robert Deeley, as defendants.

Allen claims in her lawsuit that the Rev. Lawrence Sabatino sexually assaulted her when she was 7 and the priest was assigned to St. Peter Parish in Portland. She is seeking unspecified damages.

Six more people filed similar civil lawsuits against the church this week, claiming abuse by Sabatino. Among them was Patricia Butkowski of Lewiston, whose mother approached Bishop Daniel Feeney at the time Butkowski was being abused. That action resulted in the diocese transferring Sabatino to the Portland church, where he allegedly abused Allen and other children before being transferred to St. Joseph Church in Brewer.

The new lawsuits are the latest legal allegations made possible by a 2021 change in state law that lifted a statute of limitations on such claims. Previously, state law effectively prevented people who were abused as children before the late 1980s from suing their abusers and the organizations for which they worked.

On Wednesday, Butkowski talked about the sexual abuse she endured from Sabatino in 1958 at St. Patrick Church in Lewiston, and how the church should have made an effort to protect the children in Sabatino’s parish.

“I want (the diocese) to apologize to me and to all of us. I want the church to help other families. This never should have happened under the protection of the church,” she said during the press conference.

The Bangor Daily News does not identify the victims of sexual abuse unless they agree to be named. During a press conference Wednesday, two of the six new plaintiffs declined to be identified by name.

Besides Butkowski, the others who filed suit and agreed to be named were: Mary Greene of Cumberland County, Felicia Ham of Buxton, Theresa Day of Saco, who all encountered Sabatino in the Portland church.

Sabatino, who died in 1990, was one of nine priests the diocese publicly named in 2005 as known sexual abusers of children following an investigation by the Maine attorney general’s office.

Information released then showed that Sabatino had been the subject of more than a dozen sexual abuse complaints, all from women. The abuse allegedly took place in the 1950s and 1960s at parishes in Portland, South Portland and Lewiston when the victims were between ages 6 and 17.

Sabatino was also assigned to churches in Millinocket, Brewer, Brownville and Pittsfield during his tenure with the diocese.

The diocese paid for counseling for several of Sabatino’s victims years ago.

Berman & Simmons, the law firm representing the women, had counselors present to support the sexual abuse victims during Wednesday’s press conference.

The diocese did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday. The bishop has declined to comment on previous lawsuits alleging abuse.

Allen said Wednesday that with these women also coming forward, she no longer feels alone in her fight to get accountability from the diocese. She spoke about the traumatic experience coming back together in pieces of memory through her healing, and the fears she experiences that she doesn’t understand.

“We hope we can create a system that makes changes so that other children will not be victims like we were,” she said during the press conference.

Allen’s and the six new lawsuits, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, follows lawsuits filed by three men in June who claimed priests sexually abused them when they were children. Those men filed their complaints in Superior Court in Penobscot, Cumberland and York counties.

The men were the first plaintiffs in the state to file lawsuits after the statute of limitations was lifted. Their cases are pending.

BDN reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect number of people who declined to be named.