Judge Removes Church, Diocese from Abuse Suit

By Gary Gentile
Hartford (CT) Courant
August 3, 1995

Vernon, CT - A federal judge has ruled that two brothers who contend they were sexually abused by the former pastor of Sacred Heart Church cannot hold the church or the Norwich Diocese responsible.

Judge Alfred V. Covello granted a motion last week that removes both the church and the diocese as defendants in a lawsuit brought last May by Mark and Matthew Nutt.

Covello agreed with defense attorney Joseph T. Sweeney that church officials did not know about any alleged improprieties until Matthew Nutt made a formal complaint Sept. 15, 1992. The Rev. Thomas J. Doyle was removed as pastor at Sacred Heart later that month.

The Nutt brothers contend that Doyle showed them pornographic films, bought them expensive gifts, fondled them and engaged in sexual acts. The abuse began when the boys were 14 years old, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit also names the Marianist Society, Doyle's religious order, and contends that a Catholic priest and Franciscan friar from Brooklyn, N.Y., knew about the abuse but did not report it to the proper authorities. They are still defendants.

Covello ruled that neither the church nor the diocese could be held negligent because church officials contend they did not know about the abuse, which allegedly occurred from 1979 to 1985, nor did they know that Doyle apparently sought treatment for a sexual problem in Maryland and New Mexico.

Last March, Covello ruled that neither the church nor the diocese could be held responsible under a law that holds an employer responsible only when an employee is acting within the scope of his employment.

"We are pleased that the court's ruling has ended any further active involvement of the Diocese of Norwich and Sacred Heart Parish Church of Vernon in the civil lawsuit," according to a statement issued by the diocese. "We continue to pray for the healing of those who may have been victims of any such alleged misconduct as well as for just treatment of any alleged perpetrator."

Farmington lawyer Holly Wetstone, who represents the Nutt brothers, said she would appeal the decision.

"I'm deeply disappointed," Wetstone said. "I guarantee you that someone in the Norwich Diocese knew what Father Doyle was doing and that is negligence. This was a jury issue and a jury should have made the decision. If this decision stands, it makes the Catholic Church a haven for pedophiles."

Wetstone said she was angered that the judge dismissed the church and diocese as defendants before giving her the chance to question church officials who, she said, filed "self-serving affidavits." Wetstone said the church and diocese were responsible for the alleged abuse because "the defendants chose and bestowed upon Doyle an image of trust, spirituality and power. The defendants . . . armed Doyle with the credibility and religious authority he used to commit the deeds complained of by the plaintiffs."

Sweeney said the decision shows that up until the time the complaint was lodged against Doyle, he was considered a "superstar" priest and that nothing in his conduct foreshadowed the kind of behavior alleged by the Nutt brothers.

"I am happy for the people of the Sacred Heart parish family that the sword that has been held over their head, this dark cloud, has finally been removed," Sweeney said.


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