Rev. Anthony Cipolle exits the Penobscot County Judicial Center in November.

A Superior Court judge’s statement Tuesday that a Catholic priest “inflamed” the course of events that led up to the 2018 shooting death of a 49-year-old Hampden woman could affect whether the Rev. Anthony Cipolle returns to a ministry in Maine.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is investigating Cipolle’s role in Renee Henneberry Clark’s final days before her brother-in-law, 56-year-old Philip Clark, killed her on July 11, 2018, diocesan spokesman Dave Guthro confirmed.

Henneberry Clark and her brother-in-law lived in adjoining apartments at 557 Kennebec Road in Hampden in a converted former convenience store. Just hours before she was killed, Cipolle and Clark got into a fight on the property that left Clark with broken ribs and a possible concussion. Clark on Tuesday was sentenced to 43 years in prison for murdering his sister-in-law.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

“Now that the criminal investigation and trial is complete, the Diocese of Portland’s Office of Professional Responsibility is in the process of reviewing all of the available facts related to this case,” Guthro said. “To respect confidentiality and to avoid prejudicing either the process or results of this internal review, the diocese isn’t commenting on it further at this time.”

Cipolle, 55, of Arlington, Massachusetts, remains on leave from the ministry, which he requested in December 2018. He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Ordained in 2017, he was assigned to St. Paul the Apostle Parish, which includes churches in Bangor, Brewer, Winterport and Hampden.

“It is not possible for him to return to ministry until the aforementioned process is completed,” Guthro said. “As is diocesan policy, if and/or when his ministry status changes, a public announcement will be made.”

A final decision is expected in a few weeks, he said.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

In sentencing Philip Clark on Tuesday, Justice William Stokes criticized Cipolle for the role he played “in the tragedy that unfolded.”

“The role of Anthony Cipolle in this tragedy, I don’t think can be overstated,” the judge said. “He certainly did not help the situation at all, at least from my point of view. Cipolle clearly inserted himself into this whole situation.”

Stokes also said that Cipolle “had the opportunity to defuse this situation, and given his position, he had an obligation, a moral obligation, to defuse the situation and he didn’t. He inflamed it.”

Guthro said Wednesday the diocese would consider Stokes’ statements in deciding whether Cipolle works as a priest in Maine again.

At Clark’s trial in November, he described Henneberry Clark as “my best friend,” denying that they had a romantic relationship.

Cipolle admitted that he was renting a room from Henneberry Clark at the single-family home in Etna that she rented shortly before she had a protection from abuse order served on her husband, 58-year-old Frank “Chuck” Clark of Hampden.

The priest testified that he stayed at the Etna house one or two nights a week.

“Most of the time on my day off I spent riding horses,” Cipolle said. “I wanted to be near there,” where his horse was stabled.

Cipolle said that he was “advising” Henneberry Clark as a parishioner in late June and early July 2018 because “Renee had paralyzing fear of Chuck and Phil Clark.”

Raised a Catholic in Massachusetts, Cipolle’s journey to the priesthood was long and winding. It included marriage, fatherhood, running a successful business and numerous encounters with law enforcement in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Illinois beginning when Cipolle was 20.

He was first charged in New Hampshire in December 1984 with attempted first-degree murder, but the outcome of that case is not included in Cipolle’s criminal history. He has also been charged with drug possession, assault, theft and insurance fraud. The most recent charge was in May 2007, when he was charged in Medford, Massachusetts, with operating a motor vehicle after his driver’s license had been suspended.

The priest testified at Clark’s trial in November that he worked as an undercover drug agent for the Massachusetts State Police, which he said led to a substance use disorder.

He told the jury he first met Henneberry Clark when she served as his drug counselor when he sought treatment in Maine about 15 years before her death.

The priest said he could not remember the name of the facility where he was treated. In addition, Henneberry Clark was not licensed as a clinical professional counselor in Maine until March 2011, according to the state Board of Counseling Professionals Licensure. She was relicensed in 2017.

Cipolle said the two met again years later after the diocese assigned him to the Bangor parish.