'Church Has Some Owning up to Do'

By John Richardson
Portland Press Herald [Maine]
June 5, 2005

In 1960, Ann Siteman was a 13-year-old growing up on Portland's Munjoy Hill and part of a family with a strong Catholic faith.

She and a friend heard the weekly religious education classes at St. Peter's Catholic Church were more interesting than the ones in the neighboring parish, and they decided to go there. The Rev. Lawrence Sabatino was a teacher and a kids' favorite, she said.

"Everybody liked him," Siteman recalled. "I really liked him, so we would go see him after class."

She remembers two times when Sabatino touched her, describing it only as inappropriate. "He touched both of us. After one of these times, she said, 'He shouldn't be doing that,' and we never went back there."

Siteman thought that was the end of it, and the two girls never talked about it. But the incidents remained buried in her mind, and they clearly affected her, Siteman said. She grew angry and broke away from the church in college.

"I think it really shattered something in me," she said. "I was a pretty devout Catholic."

Twenty-five years after the incidents, then married with a 2-year-old daughter, the impact of what had happened finally hit.

"One day, I was standing in my house, and I remembered what he had done," she said.

She spent a weekend crying. "I had done nothing wrong, but I still felt ashamed."

She eventually told her family and got counseling, which she paid for herself.

"When I got past the shame, I was angry, and I wanted him stopped," Siteman said.

She wanted to confront Sabatino in his parish at the time - St. Agnes in Pittsfield - but her counselor talked her out of it.

She did speak out, however. Around 1985, she wrote letters to Church World, the newspaper of the Portland Diocese and local newspapers. Church World printed part of her letter without identifying her or Sabatino.

She also met with a lawyer but was told too much time had passed to file a lawsuit against Sabatino or the church.

Siteman read Sabatino's obituary in 1990 with a feeling of relief. "He couldn't hurt anybody any more."

News reports of the spreading national priest abuse scandal that erupted in Boston in 2002 brought back the memories, the anxiety and the pain. Still wanting to hold the church accountable, Siteman met with Bishop Joseph Gerry in Portland in a session arranged by victims' advocates. Siteman, Patricia Butkowski and another woman at the meeting told stories of being abused by Sabatino.

"He apologized to us," she said.

Today, Siteman appears to be a woman healed. An accountant at the University of Maine School of Law and a resident of Windham, she talks about what happened almost matter-of-factly, if not in great detail.

The public release of Sabatino's name has again stirred up the anxiety and anger, she said. "It just brings the whole thing back again," she said.

But Siteman said she believes it will be healthier in the long run to talk about it, and it could help other victims.

"Even though it was very hard remembering, I was glad I remembered and worked through that. That was something that was sitting in my subconscious. It was really affecting my life," she said.

"I still think the church has some owning up to do," Siteman said. "They've admitted some things, but nobody has taken responsibility for the decisions that were made, or the cover-up."