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A Scarborough woman has sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, alleging that a Portland priest identified years ago as a serial abuser sexually assaulted her in the 1960s and that the church failed to prevent it.
The lawsuit from Ann Allen, 64, is the latest legal claim made possible by a 2021 change in state law that lifted a statute of limitations on such claims. Previously, state law effectively prevented people who were abused as children before the late 1980s from suing their abusers and the organizations for which they worked.
Allen’s suit names the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and its head, Bishop Robert Deeley, as defendants. The Bangor Daily News does not identify the victims of sexual abuse unless they agree to be named.
The diocese did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday. The bishop has declined to comment on previous lawsuits alleging abuse.
Allen claims in the lawsuit that the Rev. Lawrence Sabatino sexually assaulted her when she was 7 and the priest was assigned to St. Peter Parish in Portland. She is seeking unspecified damages.
Sabatino, who died in 1990, was one of nine priests the diocese publicly named in 2005 as known sexual abusers of children following an investigation by the Maine attorney general’s office.
Information released then showed that Sabatino had been the subject of more than a dozen sexual abuse complaints, all from women. The abuse allegedly took place in the 1950s and 1960s at parishes in Portland, South Portland and Lewiston when the victims were between ages 6 and 17.
Sabatino was also assigned to churches in Millinocket, Brewer, Brownville and Pittsfield during his tenure with the diocese.
The diocese paid for counseling for several of Sabatino’s victims.
Allen’s complaint outlines some of those reports to the diocese about Sabatino’s abuse of children starting as early as 1958, three years after he was ordained. The lawsuit includes an excerpt from a 1958 letter from the Portland bishop that ordered Sabatino to “abandon all familiarity under the name of ‘playing games’ with girls of all ages, young and mature.”
But when Sabatino was transferred to the parish Allen’s family attended, he started a youth group for girls called Solidarity. It was during a meeting of that group that Sabatino separated Allen from the other children and allegedly sexually assaulted her.
The diocese took no action to stop it and failed to warn parishioners of the sex abuse allegations against the priest, the complaint alleges. As a result, Allen alleges the church failed to prevent the sexual abuse.
Growing up, Allen’s family was religious, and family life revolved around the church, she said Thursday in announcing the lawsuit. An emotional Allen said she brought the lawsuit to help her heal from the abuse she suffered.
“When I look at a picture of that 7-year-old girl [in her first communion outfit] and I look into her eyes, I see a hopelessness and I see a damaged child,” she said.
Allen said she spent more than 35 years as an educator in California but moved back to Maine four years ago when she retired. Living in the area again, spending time with her extended family and being asked to attend Mass triggered memories of the abuse and spurred her to act.
“It’s important for me that I’ve found my voice and it helps me to heal,” Allen said.
Allen no longer worships in the Catholic church and does not intend to return, but she urged victims of clergy abuse to “find your voice and tell someone, anyone.”
“I want church to be the safe place for children that it should have been for me,” Allen said.
Allen’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in Cumberland County Superior Court, follows lawsuits filed by three men in June who claimed priests sexually abused them when they were children. Those men filed their complaints in Superior Court in Penobscot, Cumberland and York counties.
They were the first plaintiffs in the state to file lawsuits after the statute of limitations was lifted. Their cases are pending.