Anthony Cipolle at his ordination. He was removed from the priesthood in Maine three years ago and has recently been working as a resident chaplain at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has removed the name of a resident chaplain from its website after the Portland Press Herald published a story about the former Maine priest.

The story focused on a woman who sought Anthony Cipolle’s help when he was a priest, and who says he took advantage of her vulnerability, abused her trust and coerced her into a sexual relationship.

It was not clear Wednesday whether Cipolle still works for the medical center. Neither Cipolle nor the medical center responded to questions about his employment status.

Cipolle joined Vanderbilt’s Clinical Pastoral Education program as one of several resident chaplains in 2022. According to a program description online, resident chaplains work with theological students, health professionals and ministers from several faiths to aid patients in crisis.

Before he was at Vanderbilt, Cipolle was a Catholic priest in Bangor who offered parishioners spiritual direction. Those he counseled include Melissa Kearns, who told the Press Herald that despite his vow of celibacy, Cipolle pushed her into a sexual relationship.

He took advantage of her vulnerability, she said, as someone dealing with major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Kearns said she shared her story because she was concerned Cipolle could be a danger to others who are vulnerable.


Weeks before he met Kearns in August 2018, Cipolle had been renting a house with another woman, Renee Henneberry Clark, whose estranged brother-in-law shot her to death following a physical fight with Cipolle that July.

Kearns said Cipolle told her that he had also had a sexual relationship with Henneberry Clark.

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center media relations office did not respond to several emails and calls asking why Cipolle’s profile was no longer on its website on Wednesday. The office has not responded to questions regarding Cipolle’s employment status and history or the allegations of inappropriate conduct toward those in his care while he was a priest in Maine.

After the Press Herald first reached out to the medical center in March, Cipolle’s name was changed on its web page to “Anthony Thomas,” using his middle name as his last name. It’s unclear who made the change or whether it was in response to the Press Herald’s questions about Cipolle’s background.

“I am sorry, I do not have an answer,” wrote Media Relations Manager Jessica Pasley on Tuesday when asked about the name change.

The Press Herald also reached out to other resident chaplains and the program’s lead educator on Tuesday to discuss Cipolle and his work at the medical center, but received no response.


Cipolle did not respond to a call Wednesday or to a message sent to his email address at the medical center. He previously denied having taken advantage of Kearns or abusing his position as her priest, saying he considered her a friend and not a parishioner — despite admitting the two met at church and that Cipolle had offered her spiritual direction, a priestly service.

The Press Herald reviewed several texts and conducted interviews with people who observed Cipolle’s behavior with Kearns, all suggesting that the two had a sexual relationship.

Cipolle took a voluntary leave of absence from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in late 2018. He told the Press Herald Saturday that he remains on a leave of absence while negotiating a voluntary departure from the diocese.

Bishop Robert Deeley announced in May 2020 that the diocese had expelled Cipolle, removing him from the priesthood in Maine. This was after the Maine judge who oversaw the murder trial of Philip Clark, Renee Henneberry Clark’s brother-in-law, stated during Clark’s sentencing that he believed Cipolle had “fanned the flames” of the conflict that led to Henneberry Clark’s death.

Cipolle told the Press Herald that he had successfully appealed the diocese’s decision with help from a canon lawyer.

A spokesperson for the diocese did not respond to emails seeking a response to the Press Herald’s reporting and further information on Cipolle’s status and any actions the diocese has taken to permanently remove him from the priesthood.

Cipolle has said that in preparation for his ordination in Maine, he participated in a clinical pastoral education program at Central Maine Medical Center that was similar to Vanderbilt’s program.

Even after Cipolle was expelled from the diocese in 2020, he continued his work with vulnerable populations in Massachusetts.

Spectrum Health Systems, which runs several Massachusetts clinics treating people with substance use disorder, confirmed in March that Cipolle was a care coordinator at one of its locations from October 2020 to December 2021. Spectrum declined to name the location where Cipolle worked or to say what his job entailed. Spectrum did not respond to an email Monday seeking reaction to the Press Herald’s reporting.

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