Diocese to Fund Support for Late Priest's Victims
Lawrence Sabatino Was Accused of Sexually Abusing at Least 14 Girls in Maine from 1958 to 1972

By John Richardson
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
October 14, 2005

Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine is creating a confidential support group for women who were sexually abused by the Rev. Lawrence Sabatino.

Sabatino is accused of abusing at least 14 girls while he served in parishes in Lewiston and Portland from 1958 and 1972. Most of the alleged abuse occurred in Portland, when Sabatino was an assistant pastor at St. Peter's.

"It's our priority to create a safe space in which people can heal from sexual abuse they've experienced," said Cyndi Amato, the agency's executive director.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland asked the agency to form the group and will pay for the counseling services. But, Amato said, the church will have no other role in the group and won't be told who participates.

Meetings of the group will not be disclosed to the media or church officials, and participants will not have any contact with the diocese, she said.

"That's the only way we would have agreed to do the support group," Amato said.

To participate or get more information, victims should call the agency directly. Its 24-hour confidential hotline is 1-800-313-9900.

Amato said the support group is a sign of the diocese reaching out to sexual-abuse victims who may not want to have any contact with the church. The diocese has routinely provided counseling to victims who come forward to report sexual abuse by members of the clergy, but this is the first time it has arranged to pay for such an independent support group.

"Certainly, there are people who want church help, and we do that," said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese. "But for those who really didn't want to deal with the church . . . certainly we can help in that financially."

Sexual Assault Response Services is mailing information about the group to known victims of Sabatino, and Amato and Bernard agreed to talk to the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram about the program to reach victims who had not come forward.

It's unclear how many women will want to participate or when the group will begin meeting. The support group will meet for 12 weeks and be led by a licensed counselor.

Amato said women who may not want to be part of a support group, or any other victims of sexual assault or abuse, can call the hotline to find out about other counseling services or just to talk to advocates.

"All our services are free and confidential," she said.

Sabatino's is considered Maine's worst case in the church's sexual abuse scandal because of the number of victims and the inadequacy of the church's response.

Church leaders were told that he had sexually abused an 8-year-old girl in Lewiston in 1958 before transferring him to St. Peter's church Portland, where he would supervise an after-school sodality for young girls. He died in 1990, before the other victims came forward.

Sabatino's name was not made public until May, after the Blethen Maine Newspapers, which owns the Press Herald/Telegram, sued the attorney general and won access to investigative records on 20 dead priests.

In a news article about Sabatino following that release, three of his victims described their ongoing struggle to heal from the abuse more than 30 years later.

Sabatino served as a parish priest in Maine for 35 years. In addition to Lewiston and Portland, he served in Millinocket, Bangor, Brownville Junction and Pittsfield.


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