A Maine priest is being returned to active ministry, after a yearlong investigation by Catholic Church officials found allegations that he sexually abused two girls in the 1980s are unfounded, the Portland Diocese said Wednesday.

The Rev. Robert Vaillancourt was placed on administrative leave last July after church officials received a complaint from a woman who said that she was sexually abused by the priest in the 1980s. Two months later, another woman came forward and said she, too, had been sexually abused by Vaillancourt during the same period. Both women were girls at the time.

The second woman said the abuse occurred in Biddeford, where in the early 1980s Vaillancourt was a new priest and running a youth program at St. Andre’s Catholic Church.

At the time he was put on leave, Vaillancourt was serving at several churches in the Midcoast parish of St. Brendan the Navigator.

The Diocese of Portland said its Office of Professional Responsibility investigated the allegations, interviewing 30 people and checking records and documents.

“The findings of the investigations, including contradictory evidence, determined the allegations were unfounded and could not have occurred,” the diocese said in a statement Wednesday.

Those findings were presented to an independent diocesan review board, which unanimously agreed with the findings of the investigators, the diocese said.

The review board’s findings were then presented to Bishop Robert Deeley, who accepted the decision and forwarded the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, which gave the go-ahead for Vaillancourt to be reinstated.

A statement from the diocese said that “civil authorities” also were notified of the allegations against Vaillancourt last year and “state law enforcement” investigated. However, a spokeswoman for the Maine State Police said that agency did not look into the allegations, and the spokesman for the diocese, Dave Guthro, did not respond to an email Wednesday seeking more information about which police agency investigated the allegations and the results of the inquiry.

The church’s investigation and findings were dismissed by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group for the victims of sexual assaults by priests.

The “allegations against Fr. Vaillancourt still have us concerned,” said Michael McDonnell, communications director for SNAP. “We know that false allegations of child sexual abuse are extremely rare and we stand with these two women who stepped forward with courage.”

“Our hearts go out to them with this result,” McDonnell said of the two women who made the allegations against Vaillancourt.

McDonnell said that a Maine law repealing the statute of limitations for filing a suit over child sexual abuse means that the victims can still pursue a civil suit in the case, but in some states, the statute of limitations “is playing a part in accused clergy being cleared by their employers and placed back into the ministry.”

Call for release of details

He also called on the Portland Diocese to release details of the allegations against Vaillancourt “so that parishioners and the public can judge for themselves.”

Clearing the priests after an investigation “seems to be a new tactic for dioceses to use to clear their books” of accusations, McDonnell said.

The church’s “tactics are always to get in front of it,” he said, particularly in cases where the victims might file a civil suit seeking damages.

The diocese said Vaillancourt has not received a new assignment and McDonnell said it’s rare to see accused priests assigned to a new parish. Often, he said, they are assigned to desk jobs in the diocese with limited contact with the public.

The diocese did not respond to an email seeking more information about the case and Vaillancourt, including whether he would be returned to the Midcoast parish where he had been assigned or what other jobs he might do instead.