The Catholic priest who “inflamed” events leading up to a 49-year-old Hampden woman’s murder on July, 11, 2018, has been removed from ministry, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
The Rev. Anthony Cipolle, 55, of Arlington, Massachusetts, described himself as a spiritual adviser to Renee Henneberry Clark, who was shot to death by her brother-in-law a few hours after Cipolle was in a fight with him at a Hampden residence. Henneberry Clark and her killer, Philip Clark, 57, lived in adjoining apartments in a converted former convenience store.
Bishop Robert Deeley announced Cipolle’s termination in a statement first read Saturday at St. John Catholic Church in Bangor during a Mass that was streamed online.
“He will not be given another assignment,” the diocesan statement said. “With the restrictions placed on him, he cannot function or present himself as a priest.”
The diocese l aunched a probe in January into the role Cipolle played in the events leading up to Hennebery Clark’s death, one day after Clark was sentenced to 43 years in prison for shooting her 10 times.
“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,” the diocese said.
The diocese didn’t offer specifics about what Cipolle lied to investigators about or how the priest abused his authority, although diocese leaders clarified it did not involve inappropriate behavior with a minor.
Cipolle was ordained Nov. 18, 2017, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland after the diocese paid for him to complete his undergraduate education and attend the seminary. He served as a parochial vicar at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Bangor until he took a leave of absence in December 2018.
Cipolle said Saturday in a statement released to the Bangor Daily News that he was unaware of any specific allegations on which the diocese based its conclusions.
“While I cannot claim to be a saint, I am not a criminal,” he said. “I categorically deny the findings reached by the diocesan investigator. The
public and Catholic faithful need to know that during the course of the investigation, I was never told the names of my purported accusers, never shown purported documentary evidence being used against me, and never informed of which exact violation(s) of canon or civil law I was being investigated for having allegedly committed. It seemed like a fishing expedition with a net cast as wide and as ambiguously as possible to catch red herrings.”
Cipolle also said that he was denied due process under Canon Law and is “deeply hurt by the accusation that I abused my position as a priest or conducted myself in anything other than an ethical manner.”
While on leave, Cipolle has been on a reduced stipend. Whether he will continue to be on the payroll will be reviewed shortly, according to the diocese.
Cipolle said that his future vocation is in God’s hands.
“God can move hearts because he is the truth” ,Cipolle said. “But until God in his own time should make the truth visible for all to see, I can only but pray and rely upon those who know the truth to come forward and help me.”
When the diocesan announced its investigation, spokesman Dave Guthro said church officials would consider the critical statements Superior Court Justice William Stokes made about Cipolle when he sentenced Clark on Jan. 7, 2019, at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor, as it evaluated whether the priest would return to work in Maine.
“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.”
Stokes also said that Cipolle had the “opportunity and a moral obligation to defuse this situation,” but didn’t.
“He inflamed it,” the judge said.
Clark’s defense team, David Bate of Bangor and Logan Perkins of Belfast said that Cipolle’s role in Henneberry Clark’s death led to a “tragic aftermath.”
They said the priest should have “sown peace in a difficult domestic situation.”
“Instead, he waged war. As the trial evidence made clear, Cipolle beat and kicked Philip while he was on the ground, stunning Philip, bloodying him, and breaking his rib. When the police arrived, Cipolle, though still a priest, decided that he need not confess.
Renee Henneberry Clark would be alive had it not been for Cipolle, they said, and Philip Clark would be a free man.
“This is all beyond sadness.”
Clark has appealed his conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
The defense team argued to jurors that Clark, who is incarcerated at the Maine State Prison in Warren, was guilty of manslaughter but not murder. Clark immediately confessed to police that he pulled the trigger after his sister-in-law pushed “every frigging button she could” until he snapped and shot her 10 times.
After initially telling Stokes that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Cipolle changed his mind and took the stand during Clark’s trial in November. He described Henneberry Clark as his “best friend,” denying that they had a romantic relationship.
The priest testified that he was renting a room from Henneberry Clark at the single-family home in Etna that she rented shortly before she got a protection from abuse order against her husband, 58-year-old Frank “Chuck” Clark of Hampden. He is Philip Clark’s brother.
Cipolle testified that he stayed at the Etna house one or two nights a week. He also said that he was “advising” Henneberry Clark as a parishioner in late June and early July 2018 because “Renee had paralyzing fear” of her husband and brother-in-law.
Raised a Catholic in Massachusetts, Cipolle’s journey to the priesthood was long and winding. It included marriage, fatherhood, running a successful business and numerous encounters with law enforcement in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Illinois beginning when Cipolle was 20.
He was charged in New Hampshire in December 1984 with attempted first-degree murder, but the outcome of that case is not included in Cipolle’s criminal history. He also has been charged with drug possession, assault, theft and insurance fraud. The most recent charge was in May 2007, when he was cited in Medford, Massachusetts, for operating a motor vehicle after his driver’s license had been suspended.
The priest testified at Clark’s trial that he was an undercover drug agent for the Massachusetts State Police, which he said led to a substance use disorder.
Cipolle told the jury he first met Henneberry Clark when she served as his drug counselor when he sought treatment in Maine about 15 years before her death. The priest said he could not remember the name of the facility where he was treated.
Henneberry Clark was not licensed as a clinical professional counselor in Maine until March 2011, according to the state Board of Counseling Professionals Licensure. She was relicensed in 2017.
Cipolle said the two met again years later after the diocese assigned him to the Bangor parish.
In Saturday’s announcement, the bishop asked that anyone with information about or an allegation of misconduct concerning Cipolle, to contact Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Diocese of Portland, at 321-7836 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.