The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has expelled a Bangor priest who was criticized by a Maine judge who said he “inflamed” events leading to the murder of a woman in 2018, the diocese said Sunday.

The Rev. Anthony Cipolle was spiritual adviser to the woman, Renee Henneberry Clark of Hampden, and got into a fight with her estranged husband’s brother, Philip Clark, when he came by her house to remove some tools.

The Rev. Anthony Cipolle serves the Eucharist for the first time after becoming a priest at his ordination in 2017. On Sunday, the diocese removed Cipolle from the priesthood for his involvement in a dispute that eventually led to a fatal shooting and murder conviction. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Philip Clark later shot his sister-in-law to death. In court, he said she pushed “every friggin’ button she could” until he snapped. He was sentenced to 43 years in prison.

Cipolle faced criticism for his role from Superior Court Justice William Stokes, who said the priest had “inflamed,” rather than defused, the situation.

“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.”

The diocese launched an investigation early this year into Cipolle’s conduct. He was put on leave at partial pay.

Now, Cipolle will no longer be a member of the priesthood.

“During the investigation, it was determined that Cipolle abused his position as a member of the clergy, violated the Diocese of Portland’s Code of Ethics, and attempted to deceive investigators,” a statement from the diocese said.

The diocese did not specify how Cipolle allegedly attempted to deceive investigators, nor did it give details of his other alleged infractions. His alleged misconduct did not involve “inappropriate behavior with a minor,” the statement said.

“He will not be given another assignment,” the statement from Bishop Robert Deeley said. “With the restrictions placed on him, he cannot function or present himself as a priest.”

Cipolle emphatically denied the allegations Sunday evening and said he was treated unfairly by the diocese.

“While I cannot claim to be a saint, I am not a criminal. I categorically deny the Diocese’s findings that I abused my authority as a priest, violated the Diocese’s Code of Ethics, and attempted to deceive any investigator,” Cipolle said in an emailed statement.

“The public and Catholic faithful need to know that during the course of investigation I was never told the names of my purported accusers, never shown alleged documentary evidence used against me and never informed of which exact violations of canon or civil law I was being investigated for having allegedly committed. Everything was terribly nebulous.”

Cipolle said he was subjected to five hours of interrogation by a diocesan investigator and willingly gave responses to a multitude of questions “based on accusations that were never precisely divulged to me. In releasing its statement without affording me church due process beforehand, the Diocese did not act appropriately.”

Cipolle said that while he will respect the restrictions imposed on him by Bishop Deeley, which prohibits him from practicing public ministry, he plans to challenge through the church’s own court system “all unjust measures taken against me.”

Cipolle asked to be placed on leave of absence in December 2018 so that he could care for his sick mother, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2018. His mother, who lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, has since died. Cipolle, 55, still lives in his family home.

“I was caring for my mother until her death and taking classes at Boston College,” Cipolle said when asked what he had been doing since he took a leave of absence. “In obedience to the precept issued, I do not represent myself as a priest or exercise any ministry.”

Cipolle said he is deeply hurt by the accusation that he abused his position as a priest or conducted himself in anything other than an ethical manner.

“As a Roman Catholic priest serving the faithful in the 21st Century, I really thought that the days of open-ended interrogations by investigators, complainants’ names hidden (from) the accused, and secret evidence were long gone,” he said.

The now former priest took an unusual path to the clergy. He was ordained in 2017, at the age of 52, after an eventful life with multiple careers, a son, a marriage that didn’t last, and an eventual return to the faith.

Cipolle served as parochial vicar at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Bangor until going on leave in 2018.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.