Rarely do we at Horowitz Law take time out to respond to our critics. This is an exception. After we criticized what Maine Catholic officials did and did not do with one particular priest, a reader raised an interesting, legitimate question: “How SHOULD Catholic officials have handled this situation?”
Just to recap- Maine Bishop Robert Deeley ordained Fr. Anthony Cipolle in 2017, despite a troubling past that included multiple career changes, a son, a marriage, and criminal charges, including attempted murder, attempted insurance fraud, and drug possession. After just over a year on the job, he was removed as church officials’ investigated his role in the murder of a woman in 2018. The diocese determined that Fr. Cipolle abused his position as a clergy member, violated the diocesan ‘code of ethics,’ and tried to deceive investigators. More recently, Fr. Cipolle was found working as a chaplain at a Tennessee hospital.
Horowitz Law found fault with how Deeley and other church staffers dealt with Fr. Cipolle. But the question remains: “How SHOULD Maine church officials have handled this unusual situation?” Let’s look first at what might have been done initially.
- Better screening might have kept him out of the church. Bishops claim they now can screen priestly candidates more effectively, but it’s hard to have faith in this notion when so many recently-ordained clerics also turn out to be troubled in some way, especially sexually.
- At the first hint of suspicion about Fr. Cipolle, church officials should have shouted from rooftops begging victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers to come forward.
- Then, they should have given every shred of paper they had about this priest to law enforcement.
- And, of course, church officials should have suspended him, explained why, and again issued a strong public plea “If you saw, suspected or suffered any wrongdoing by Fr. Cipolle – no matter how seemingly insignificant or how long ago – it’s your duty as a citizen and a Christian to inform law enforcement.”
- Church officials should have done what advocates and victims groups do often: periodically Google Fr. Cipolle to find out where he is and then warn the public (through social media or a news release or other means)
What about once the Maine church hierarchy ousts him from his post there?
- They should tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he should earn his living in a job with little or no contact with the public (especially vulnerable people, like hospital patients). Church officials should write Fr. Cipolle and put this in writing: ‘As long as you keep putting yourself in positions with access to the vulnerable, we’ll keep tracking you and alerting police, prosecutors, employers & the public about you.’
- And to be safe, why not make announcements in all Maine church bulletins, all Maine Catholic websites, and all Maine parish pulpits and send emails to all Maine Catholic staffers (whether at schools or rectories or charities, whether ordained or lay people), saying,
“We’ve learned recently that a troubling and potentially dangerous former Maine priest is working in Tennessee as a chaplain. For the safety of the vulnerable and the healing of the wounded, we ask you to spread the word about Fr. Cipolle and ask your friends, neighbors, relatives (and, most especially, ex-Catholics), ‘Do you know him? Did he hurt you or do anything inappropriate?’ If so, call law enforcement. Innocent kids and vulnerable adults are safest when men like this are convicted and jailed. You could help make this happen. Reporting known or suspected crimes, especially serious ones potentially involving sexual violence is both your Christian and your civic duty.’
Is any of this difficult? Or expensive? Or controversial? We think not. We think it’s what any responsible CEO or group of decision-makers should do. And it’s especially what those who purport to be spiritual leaders should do. NOTE – Our firm successfully represented a Maine woman who Fr. Cipolle sexually exploited over the course of several months in late 2018 and early 2019 after the murder took place. During the course of the case, Horowitz Law learned of many concerns raised by Cipolle’s superiors in the Diocese of Portland about his lack of boundaries with parishioners and his qualifications for counseling parishioners – even before he was ordained a priest. The legal case against the Diocese of Portland was for the failure to protect the vulnerable woman, despite all the warning signs. It ultimately settled without litigation.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Portland in Maine. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in Maine, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Portland now have legal options, but filing deadlines may apply, so do not delay in reaching out to us. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse in Maine and nationwide. We can help. Contact us at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today.