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Six new lawsuits filed against Portland Catholic diocese for alleged abuse

On Wednesday, six women alleging abuse by Rev. Lawrence Sabatino between 1958 and 1967 filed lawsuits in Cumberland County.

PORTLAND, Maine — Six new lawsuits were filed Wednesday in Cumberland County, alleging abuse by church leaders in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland as children.

"I want them to be accountable for it and I want them to acknowledge that they were wrong, and I want an apology," Patricia Butkowski, who's a plaintiff in lawsuit filed against the diocese Wednesday.

Butkowski said she was abused by Rev. Lawrence Sabatino in 1958, when she was just six years old. On Wednesday, Butkowski was joined by six other women who also say they were abused by Sabatino as children. 

"I hope that we can create some systemic change in the policies of the Catholic diocese so that other children will not be victimized as we were," Ann Allen said. Allen was the first alleged victim of Sabatino to file suit against the diocese in December of 2022. 

All seven women are accusing the diocese of abuse by Sabatino, and concealment of their claims of abuse were on hand for a news conference Wednesday with attorneys from Berman & Simmons and Horowitz Law, which have filed a total of 20 complaints of alleged abuse against the diocese. 

"How many priests need to abuse children before the diocese, as their employer who enabled them, needs to be held accountable," Attorney Michael Bigos with Berman & Simmons said. 

In 2021, the Maine Legislature passed a new law that removed the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, which has allowed victims of alleged abuse to file lawsuits against the diocese. 

Attorneys representing the diocese have since challenged that ruling, however Judge Thomas McKeon denied a motion for judgment regarding the constitutionality of lifting the statute of limitations. 

Attorneys with Petruccelli, Martin & Haddow, representing the diocese filed a motion last week in the Cumberland County Business and Consumer Court, which heard the initial motion for judgment, to have their motion heard by the Maine Law Court. 

"Not only will the law court's decision determine the retroactivity of this enactment in many cases, but it will also be important controlling precedent in future disputes about the retroactivity of future laws," the motion reads in part.

Judge Thomas McKeon will issue a decision whether or not to refer the case to the Law Court in the coming weeks. 

Alleged victims on hand Wednesday said they hope they can have their day in court.

"I'm doing this for all the other victims, children, in their hearts that can still not come forward to voice what has happened to them. I hope that by doing this, I can hold the church accountable. I want them to apologize, and to all of us for allowing this to happen, and not stopping it," Butkowski said. 

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