The Portland Press Herald [Portland ME]
May 9, 2023
By Emily Allen
Carolyn Bloom receives a monthly stipend from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to coordinate counseling and treatment for those who say they were sexually abused by clergy as children.
A licensed social worker who works with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland was disciplined by a state regulatory board over her interactions with a woman who has accused a priest of taking advantage of her in a time of crisis.
Carolyn Bloom, an independent clinician for the diocese, admitted to violating a national code of ethics for social workers and agreed to pay for and participate in a year-long supervision program.
She has worked with the diocese for 20 years, the diocese confirmed Tuesday, helping to coordinate outpatient counseling for people who say they were sexually abused by diocesan employees.
In an agreement with the state social work board signed on Monday, Bloom admitted she was unclear about her role with a woman who thought Bloom was counseling her and failed to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
That woman, Melissa Kearns, had filed a complaint with the diocese in 2020 alleging she was coerced into a sexual relationship with a Maine priest, Anthony Cipolle.
The priest broke his vows, she says. She’s breaking the silence.
She then filed a complaint against Bloom in December with the State Board of Social Worker Licensure after her attorney asked Bloom for records of their sessions, and the counselor said none existed because she didn’t consider Kearns a patient.
Kearns is not identified in the agreement but confirmed to the Press Herald that she filed the complaint.
The diocese offers counseling to victims of childhood abuse. It’s part of its larger response to the many allegations of childhood sexual abuse parishioners have made against priests and other church representatives, spanning decades.
Bloom is not an employee of the diocese but does receive a monthly stipend from the church.
Kearns had contacted the diocese and was still in a period of emotional and mental distress when Bloom reached and began talking with her.
Although Kearns was not eligible for counseling services because she was an adult at the time of the incident, Bloom identified herself in a text to Kearns as a “clinical social worker who works for the Catholic diocese to help abuse victims,” according to the agreement.
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But over the following six months, the agreement states, the two spoke on a regular basis at scheduled times and Kearns believed Bloom was her therapist.
Bloom did not respond to an email and a voicemail seeking to discuss the agreement and what led to it, but in her response to the complaint in March, she said she told Kearns that she couldn’t be her therapist because of her existing relationship with the church, which would pose a conflict of interest. However, Bloom wrote that she did provide Kearns “with some emotional support in a purely humanitarian capacity.”
“I ended up speaking with her a number of times over approximately six months,” Bloom wrote. “Since I did not consider her to be a social work client, and I did not consider my emotional support to be social work, I did not keep any records of our conversations.”
On April 14, the board voted to preliminarily deny Bloom’s renewal application and to schedule a hearing but later agreed to offer Bloom a consent agreement to resolve the case.
“I’m glad that the board of licensure recognizes that she treated me questionably. It feels like a small victory – it feels like finally being heard and taken seriously,” Kearns said in an interview Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the Maine Office of Professional & Occupational Regulation, which oversees the regulatory board, declined to comment on the decision Tuesday. The Maine Office of the Attorney General, which also signed the agreement, did not respond to inquiries to discuss Bloom’s case.
Under her agreement with the board, Bloom has agreed to be supervised by another licensed social worker at her own expense for one year.
The diocese will continue to work with Bloom, Bishop Robert Deeley said in a written statement provided by the diocese spokesperson.
“With the controls we have put in place and continuing vigilance, we can gratefully say that our diocese’s procedures have created a safer Church,” Deeley said. “What has been done has, no doubt, been helpful in assuring that the horrible pain experienced by many in the Church decades ago does not occur again. We continually remind ourselves of the gravity of the harm and the importance of our continual efforts to maintain the Church as a safe environment for any who seek a place to draw nearer to God.”
Kearns said Tuesday that she doesn’t think Bloom is far enough removed from the church to support victims and encourages anyone reporting abuse to contact a third party instead.
“They don’t have the best interests of their victims at heart,” Kearns said. “They want to help themselves.”
Jessica Arbour, her attorney, said Tuesday that what happened was “disheartening” and “retraumatizing” for her client.
“It’s crucial now that other abuse victims who have been mistreated by the Diocese of Portland during the reporting process come forward so that more pain might be prevented,” Arbour said. “I also call on Bishop Deeley to take the appropriate action to repair the damage that has been done by one of the people he employs to “care” for vulnerable victims of abuse and publicly apologize to anyone else she may have harmed.”