Maine Catholic priest to return to ministry after diocese investigation finds sexual abuse allegations ‘to be unfounded’

A Roman Catholic priest “will be returned to active ministry, effective immediately” after a year-long investigation determined that two allegations of sexual abuse of minor girls about four decades ago “were determined to be unfounded,” the Diocese of Portland in Maine said Wednesday.

The Rev. Robert Vaillancourt, 66, was placed on administrative leave in July 2021, after church officials received a complaint that he had sexually abused a girl in the 1980s.

According to the diocese, the announcement of his administrative leave and subsequent investigation encouraged anybody else to come forward with relevant information. Two months later, another woman said through an attorney that she also had been sexually abused by Vaillancourt.

Over the last year, the Diocese of Portland’s Office of Professional Responsibility conducted an investigation, in which more than 30 individuals were interviewed, and “extensive record and document checks were conducted.”

Findings of the investigations — which included “contradictory evidence” and determined that the allegations “could not have occurred” — were presented to the Diocese of Portland’s Review Board.

Members of the board unanimously agreed with the findings.

Bishop Robert Deeley accepted the board’s decision and submitted the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, “which examined the investigative findings and conclusions and permitted the case to proceed to this conclusion.”

Vaillancourt, known as “Father Bob,” has always denied any wrongdoing, according to the diocese. He also cooperated with the investigation.

He has not yet received a new assignment, the diocese said.