|Church Can Be Sued
in New Mexico for Priest's Alleged Sexual Abuse
By Barry Massey
Santa Fe, NM - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich, Conn., can be sued for damages in New Mexico by a victim of alleged sexual abuse by one of its priests, the state Court of Appeals has ruled.
The unanimous decision Monday reinstated a lawsuit against the diocese by Navor Tercero for alleged abuse that occurred in Santa Fe during the 1960s by the Rev. Bernard Bissonnette, a priest who came to New Mexico for treatment concerning pedophilia.
Bissonnette was ordained as a priest in the Diocese of Norwich in 1958, and was sent to New Mexico by the diocese in 1963 for treatment at the Servants of the Paraclete center in Jemez Springs. He later worked as a priest St. Anne's Parish in Santa Fe and the alleged abuse occurred there between 1966 and 1968 when Tercero was a child.
Bissonnette is retired and lives at an undisclosed location in New Mexico, according to Daymon B. Ely, an Albuquerque lawyer for Tercero.
The appeals court said the church in Connecticut was subject to the authority of New Mexico courts under the state's "long-arm" law. The ruling reversed a 1997 decision by a district court in Albuquerque, which had dismissed Tercero's lawsuit.
It's possible that the latest decision could be challenged and taken to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Lisa Ford, an Albuquerque lawyer for the Diocese of Norwich, could not be reached for comment because she was out of her office on Monday.
When the case was considered by the appeals court, the diocese contended that it was shielded from lawsuits in New Mexico because the Servants of the Paraclete decided to place Bissonnette in the parish at Santa Fe.
However, the court concluded that the Servants of the Paraclete "functioned as the diocese's intermediary."
The diocese paid for Bissonnette's stay at the center in Jemez Springs and would not allow him to return to Connecticut as a priest because of his alleged sexual abuse of boys during the early 1960s. The diocese designated a priest who founded the New Mexico center as its agent to supervise Bissonnette.
Bissonnette was transferred briefly to a facility in Minnesota operated by the Paracletes, but he returned to New Mexico in 1966 after failing to obtain an appointment as a priest in another state.
"The Diocese created, cultivated and fostered the relationship between
Father Bissonnette and New Mexico," the Court of Appeals said.
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