Ann Allen takes a moment before speaking during a news conference where she announced a civil lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Allen said she was sexually abused as a child in the 1960s by the Rev. Lawrence Sabatino at St. Peter Parish in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Nearly 17 years ago, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland publicly acknowledged that more than 60 of its priests and employees were never criminally charged despite being reported to church officials for sexual abuse.

The Portland Press Herald in 2005 successfully sued the Maine Attorney General’s Office, gaining access to the 20 files belonging to priests who had already died, including the Rev. Lawrence Sabatino.

A Scarborough woman who says she was abused by Sabatino filed a civil complaint against the Diocese on Thursday. Her attorneys hope the action will spur a new investigation, forcing the church to address allegations of abuse from other people.

“I believe that there are other survivors out there,” said Ann Allen, 64, at a news conference announcing the lawsuit on Thursday. “Many of whom probably were with me and my siblings, when we went to the St. Theresa Girls Sodality meetings and played games with Father Sabatino. My message to them is, ‘Please, find your voice. Please tell someone, anyone, and then get on that road to having a better life.'”

Allen, born Ann Marie Burke, grew up along Brighton Avenue in Portland in the 1960s. In her complaint, Allen says she was about 6 years old when Sabatino abused her at St. Peter Parish.

She is not the first person to report abuse from Sabatino. Patricia Butkowski told the Portland Press Herald in 2005 that she was 6 years old in 1958 when Sabatino – a priest in Lewiston at that time – sexually abused her. A doctor later found vaginal bruising and evidence of abuse. Butkowski’s parents tried reporting the incident to police, but were told to talk to the bishop.


A member of the Maine Attorney General’s Office noted in 2005 that police would handle a report of abuse differently now.

The diocese moved Sabatino to St. Peter Parish in Portland, where he was made an assistant pastor. Sabatino left Lewiston with a written warning from the bishop:

“As a result of complaints against you … I forbid you under penalty of suspension to be incurred ‘ipso facto,’ to visit the (family’s) home, or to seek the companionship of (the girl) ‘to play games.’ I also extend the penalty of suspension for any kind of visit within the limits of St. Patrick’s parish, Lewiston” the warning said. “I repeat my warning that you are to abandon all familiarity under the name of ‘playing games’ (with) girls of all ages, young and mature.”

Despite the bishop’s warning, Sabatino was allowed to oversee the St. Theresa’s Sodality group, in which young girls in the church met weekly to play games like hide-and-seek. Allen, about 7 at the time, said she attended these meetings as early as 1964.

Ann Allen has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, saying the church failed to stop the abuse by the Rev. Lawrence Sabatino. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

At one meeting, Allen said Sabatino led her to the basement, away from where other girls were playing in the church hall. There, “leveraging his authority and position of trust as an employee and representative” for the Catholic Church, Sabatino abused Allen, the complaint alleges.

“Upon information and belief, Sabatino has been accused of sexually abusing more than a dozen girls during his time as defendant’s priest, before, during and after the period of plaintiff’s sexual abuse,” the complaint states.


In all, the diocese assigned Sabatino to eight churches. In addition to Portland and Lewiston, Sabatino was assigned to posts in Millinocket, Brewer, Brownville and Pittsfield. He died in 1990.

Allen’s complaint, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court on Thursday, alleges not only that the church failed to warn parishioners that they were at risk of abuse, but that the church deliberately withheld the information from police to prevent the church from being accused of wrongdoing.

After nearly 60 years, Allen wants to hold the church accountable.

“I want the church to be the safe place that it should’ve been for me, that it should’ve been for all the families who attended mass there and that had their lives revolve around their Catholic faith,” Allen said. “Who put their trust in their clergy.”


Allen made her announcement in a small conference room at the Berman and Simmons law office in downtown Portland, just a few blocks from the church she grew up in.


She sat across the table from a row of reporters, looking directly into several TV cameras. She was seated between her attorneys, Michael Bigos of Portland and Jessica Arbour of Horowitz Law, a Florida-based firm specializing in sexual abuse lawsuits across the country.

The lawsuit was “probably one of the hardest things” Allen has ever done in her life, she said tearfully. Behind her sat several of her siblings and her husband, Tom. When she wasn’t dabbing at the corners of her eyes with a tissue, she was clutching a silver lotus necklace around her neck representing her new Buddhist faith. She likened her lotus to a cross.

Ann Allen wipes a tear away as she speaks, flanked by her lawyers Michael Bigos and Jessica Arbour, during a press conference where they announced the filing of a civil suit complaint against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Allen said she met Arbour and Bigos about a year ago through a TV commercial that announced a change in Maine law – that there was no longer any statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases.

Bigos had filed the first known set of complaints since the new law took effect earlier that year, representing three men in Penobscot, York and Cumberland counties who said they were abused by Catholic church leaders from the 1960s through the 1980s.

Bigos did not have any updates on the three other lawsuits Thursday. The Diocese has denied all of their claims.

Allen lived most of her adult life in California, where for 35 years she worked for the McAuliffe Middle School in Los Alamitos, California. Allen joined the school as a teacher and worked in various positions – including special education and administration – until she took over as principal in 2012. In 2017, Allen was recognized as the state’s Middle School Principal of the Year.


As principal, there were times when Allen had to handle reports of sexual abuse. For a long time, Allen said it was “gratifying” to help these students in a way she couldn’t be helped as a 6-year-old at St. Peter. But when she moved back to Maine to live closer to family and the water, her surroundings reminded her of a past she hadn’t fully reconciled with.

“So many things were very triggering to me,” Allen said. “Being back in the area, being back with my extended family. Being asked to go back to church, which I haven’t done and I won’t do.”

The church was at the center of her family growing up. Allen showed reporters a copy of her 1965 first Holy Communion photo, where at 7 years old – after the abuse occurred – she stares into the camera, her hands wrapped in a rosary, a veil draping from her short cropped hair over a small white gown.

“I see a damaged child,” Allen said. “That’s what I see.”


Allen said this lawsuit is part of her healing journey.


It’s not for money, Arbour said. Allen wants to make a difference in the lives of others who say they were abused, who want to be treated with dignity and respect, and for allegations to be taken seriously, the attorney said.

“The diocese failed to do the bare minimum then, and they’re failing to do the bare minimum now,” Arbour said.

Dave Guthro, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, did not respond to an email from the Portland Press Herald on Thursday asking to discuss Allen’s lawsuit and the possibility of a new investigation.

Bigos said Thursday that it’s outside organizations that have affected the most change within the Catholic church so far. The state’s investigation in 2004 was “groundbreaking,” but he believes the church is due for another check-in.

“So much more information has come as a result of that investigation. That’s leveraged more information privately, and it’s also leveraged a lot of nonprofit organizations to come forward, and gather more information,” Bigos said. “We would absolutely encourage the Maine Attorney General’s Office to do a full and thorough investigation now, perhaps the same with the Department of Justice.”

The Maine Attorney General’s Office did not address those requests following an inquiry from the Press Herald.

“Any individual abuse allegations should be referred to the relevant DA’s office or local law enforcement agency, not to us,” spokesperson Danna Hayes said. “They are the agencies charged with prosecuting such crimes.”

In 2005, members of the attorney general’s office told the Portland Press Herald they did not pursue any criminal charges for clergy identified in their investigation because the events were too old and many of the involved parties had died.

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