It's not the first time defrocked priest Anthony Cipolle has been accused of violating the church's code of ethics.
Anthony Cipolle, who was defrocked by the Maine Catholic Church in 2020, has been accused of coercing a woman into a sexual relationship not long after his role in a dispute that led to a Hampden woman's death. Credit: Courtesy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

A former Bangor woman fears a former Catholic priest who she says abused her could do the same to others.

It’s not the first time defrocked priest Anthony Cipolle has been accused of violating the church’s code of ethics. Cipolle was a central figure in a dispute that led to a Hampden woman’s death in 2018.

Melissa Kearns, who spoke publicly about the allegations for the first time with the Portland Press Herald, moved back to her hometown of Bangor from New York in 2018 after struggling with her mental health because of abuse in a relationship.

She sought community in St. John’s Catholic Church, where she first found refuge as a child and later met Cipolle.

Kearns told the Press Herald she felt an immediate connection with Cipolle, but within weeks the relationship became physical and unhealthy.

Kearns told the Portland newspaper Cipolle pressured her into having sex and isolated her from her loved ones, saying he was the only person who cared about her.

By the end of 2018, Kearns needed to get away from Cipolle, so she moved back to New York, according to the Press Herald.

Before they met, Cipolle was involved with another woman, Rennee Henneberry Clark, who was killed by her brother-in-law Philip Clark in 2018. Kearns thought Cipolle was a hero who helped Henneberry Clark leave a toxic relationship. But as the 2019 trial unfolded and Cipolle’s involvement became more clear, Kearns began to think her experience with him wasn’t unique.

Cipolle had helped Henneberry Clark leave her husband and rented a room from her in a house in Etna. He helped her collect her things from her home in Hampden, including tools and construction equipment that belonged to Clark, which he went to recover the night he shot her 10 times.

The priest testified he and Clark got into a fist fight that day just hours before Henneberry Clark’s death.

The judge in Philip Clark’s trial said Cipolle had an “opportunity” and “a moral obligation” to diffuse tensions, which began over accusations of stolen tools, but instead “inflamed” the situation.

“The role of Anthony Cipolle in this tragedy, I don’t think can be overstated,” Superior Court Justice William Stokes said when he sentenced Clark to 43 years for murder in 2020. “He certainly did not help the situation at all, at least from my point of view. Cipolle clearly inserted himself into this whole situation.”

During the trial, Cipolle described Henneberry Clark as his best friend, but denied having a relationship with her. Kearns claims Cipolle admitted to having a sexual relationship with Henneberry Clark. He refused to discuss that accusation with the Press Herald.

Cipolle was removed from the ministry in May 2020 after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland found Cipolle had “abused his position” in the church, violated the diocese’s code of ethics and “attempted to deceive investigators.” He had been ordained less than three years.

He is now a resident chaplain at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, according to the Press Herald.

Kearns told the Press Herald she’s worried that Cipolle could take advantage of others who are vulnerable, and that his defrocking in Maine may not stop him from becoming a priest somewhere else.

The Catholic Church in Maine has increasingly become the target of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse, including six women who filed suit in March and four Penobscot men who filed a lawsuit Thursday.

The Portland diocese has pushed back against the 2021 law that removed the state’s statute of limitations on child sex abuse, arguing the law is unconstitutional and violates the church’s right to due process.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the timing of the abuse that led Melissa Kearns to move back to Bangor.

Braeden Waddell is a reporter covering Belfast and Waldo County. He grew up in Waldoboro and joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023 after working as an associate producer for National Public Radio. He graduated...