|Reilly Being Sued
in Three Dioceses
Richard Nangle and Kathleen A. Shaw
As chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Providence and then for 27 years as bishop of the Norwich, Conn., and Worcester dioceses, Daniel P. Reilly has been named in more than 30 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by priests under his charge.
A frequent theme in the suits is that the response to suspicions and
sometimes formal complaints about the priests was to reassign them to
other parishes. None of the suits suggests the bishop was involved in
any sexual misconduct.
In a lengthy interview yesterday, Bishop Reilly said that while he served as chancellor in Providence and bishop in Norwich he was not personally involved in the decisions to reassign priests. Such suits, he said, typically cast a wide net, listing as many names of diocesan officials as can be obtained.
He is named in least 28 lawsuits alleging pedophilia by clergy in the Providence diocese; all but one are pending in court. Four clergy pedophilia suits were filed in Norwich during Bishop Reilly's tenure there; two of those have since been thrown out of court.
One of the pending suits against the Norwich Diocese was brought by a New Mexico man who alleges he was sexually molested by the Rev. Bernard W. Bissonnette, a longtime priest in the diocese. Rev. Bissonnette had been sent to treatment center in Jemez, N.M., operated by a Catholic religious order called The Servants of the Paraclete, which works with priests suspected of being pedophiles or suffering from addictions and other afflictions.
Rev. Bissonnette has been accused of molesting several youngsters in New Mexico.
A New Mexico Court of Appeals decision in December 1998 found the Norwich diocese could be sued by the New Mexico man. The Norwich Diocese has appealed the ruling, and the New Mexico Supreme Court is reviewing the appeal.
The name of Rev. Bissonnette is well known to Bishop Reilly. The priest was a central figure in the case of Putnam native Thomas Deary, who suffered from mental illness and committed suicide in 1991 at the age of 44.
Neither Thomas Deary nor his family filed a lawsuit against Rev. Bissonnette, Bishop Reilly or the Norwich Diocese.
Bishop Reilly said yesterday Thomas Deary came to him and told him he had been molested in 1962 by Rev. Bissonnette, whom he knew as Father Barney, while he was an altar boy at St. Mary's Church in Putnam.
The sexual abuse occurred before Bishop Reilly began his service in Norwich. But the accusations leveled by Mr. Deary, and later by his family, received widespread attention in the Norwich area during Bishop Reilly's tenure.
The bishop said he referred Mr. Deary for counseling by a priest-therapist and met with him a number of times. He recalled the man coming to see him one day and saying, ''You have been good to me.''
Thomas Deary's suicide, Bishop Reilly said, was extremely troubling. ''Of course, I was upset,'' he said, adding the man had ''struggled to have a normal life.''
Attention to the case continued after Thomas Deary took his own life.
A year after his brother's death, Gene Michael Deary, of Brooklyn, Conn, would ask Bishop Reilly where Rev. Bissonnette was and that he be removed from the diocesan priesthood. ''We got nothing,'' Mr. Deary said.
In yesterday's interview, the bishop said he knew at the time that Rev. Bissonnette had been sent to New Mexico for treatment and also was aware the priest had left the center. But, he insisted, he did not know where the priest was living.
Rev. Bissonnette received a monthly check from the Norwich Diocese at the time. The bishop said he did not know where the money was sent, noting that it ''could have been a post office box.'' Church law requires that a diocese provide for its priests in need, and Rev. Bissonette probably was paid $700 to $900 a month because he was not employed.
Gene Deary said, after his brother's suicide, he and other family members began meeting with the Norwich Diocese's pastoral care committee, but the meetings were hardly beneficial. He said he began referring to the committee as the ''Pastoral I Don't Care Committee'' because the primary intent of church officials seemed to him to be delaying families from taking legal action against the church.
Bishop Reilly said yesterday there was no pastoral care committee before 1992. He did acknowledge the Dearys met with him and others in the diocese who he thought could be of help.
In Mr. Deary's mind, the failure of the bishop and the diocese to help his brother while he was still alive and their handling of Rev. Bissonnette are unforgivable.
''He killed my brother; he failed me as a bishop. He was unwilling to help us, and he helped Bissonnette do what he did in another place,'' Mr. Deary said.
Bishop Reilly described Mr. Deary as an angry man who became involved with a victims group, which he believes is a motive for his allegations.
Mr. Deary, who operates real estate businesses in Northboro and Vernon, Conn., has kept a timeline of events and notes of his meetings with the bishop since his brother's death.
Mr. Deary said the bishop initially denied knowing the whereabouts of Rev. Bissonnette, but after the fourth or fifth meeting declared ''Bissonnette's right to privacy exceeded our need to find him.''
''He was lying to us. He knew where he was, and the diocese was sending his paychecks there,'' Mr. Deary said.
Frustrated, Mr. Deary hired a private detective in New Mexico who quickly found the priest at a rural residence in the town of Belen. He and family members flew to New Mexico, where they found Rev. Bissonnette, who was able to walk, sitting on the back of a truck. He said he talked to the priest and eventually received an admission Rev. Bissonnette had molested his brother.
Mr. Deary said he and his family were amazed the priest was living with a family with small children and attempted to talk to the children's father about the potential danger, but were rebuffed. He then informed New Mexico state police and chancery officials in Santa Fe about the situation.
On March 16, 1993, Mr. Deary returned to Connecticut and told Bishop Reilly he had found Rev. Bissonnette in New Mexico and had met with him. He said the bishop told him he would call back within 10 days to schedule a meeting, but no further private meetings were held with the bishop.
''We did meet with him and the pastoral care committee without any success,'' he said.
That meeting, which occurred on May 5, 1993, began on what Mr. Deary called a ''hostile note'' when the Dearys told Bishop Reilly they had heard complaints of sexual misconduct by Rev. Bissonnette at a parish in Moosup, Conn., which is part of the Norwich Diocese. He said the bishop told him no accusations had been forwarded to his office by parishioners in Moosup, priests or church workers. He said the meeting ended with Bishop Reilly ''threatening us to put the right spin on the media or else he would put a copy of Tom's letter in the paper.''
Thomas Deary had written a letter thanking the bishop for his assistance.
The bishop denied threatening to publicize the letter.
Besides the lawsuit filed in New Mexico against the Norwich Diocese, there is one lawsuit still pending in Connecticut alleging that diocese officials placed a known sex offender in a parish ministry.
Submitted in support of the pending suit is a letter Monsignor Thomas Bride of the Norwich Diocese to Bishop Reilly recommending that sexual abuse defendant Rev. Richard T. Buongirno not be placed in a parish ministry. The suit states the warning and other concerns about Rev. Buongirno's mental state were not heeded.
Rev. Buongirno is being sued by a man who alleges that he was abused in 1990 when he was 9 years old by the priest who at the time was serving as pastor of St. Matthias Church in East Lyme, Conn. The boy allegedly was sexually assaulted several times.
Robert Reardon, the plaintiff's lawyer, says Rev. Buongirno was later assigned to two other parishes where he sexually assaulted two more boys.
Bishop Reilly said Rev. Buongirno was told to undergo treatment after information surfaced about the 1990 assaults, and he was not reassigned to a parish until after Bishop Reilly left the diocese.
Rev. Buongirno has since been removed from the priesthood.
As in the Rev. Bissonnette case, the Norwich diocese is arguing it is not responsible for the actions of one of its priests. A Norwich Superior Court judge began hearing arguments regarding the case last week.
In Rhode Island, most of the pedophile priest lawsuits are being handled by Florida lawyer Richard A. Cappalli and Rhode Island lawyer Carl P. DeLuca. Of 28 known lawsuits, just one was settled- in 1991.
The lawsuits name 13 priests including Robert Marcantonio, who would later be accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in Ames, Iowa.
Bishop Reilly noted that while the number appears high, it is a standard practice for plaintiffs in such cases to name individual members of the church hierarchy.
Rev. Marcantonio's accuser alleges then-Chancellor Reilly was notified by mail on June 29, 1970, the priest had been sexually involved with more than two dozen boys for several years previously.
Later that year, a priest at Iowa State University wrote Bishop Reilly suggesting Rev. Marcantonio be allowed to enroll at the school and undergo psychotherapy.
According to the lawsuit, Rev. Bernard Duval, who also is a psychiatrist, wrote that while ''you may raise your eyebrows at his working with students, keep in mind that one cannot be treated in a vacuum ...''
On July 7, 1971, Chancellor Reilly wrote to a monsignor in Iowa thanking him for the hospitality shown to ''one of our priests, Father Robert Marcantonio, on the occasions of his visits to Father Duval.''
The lawsuit states Rev. Marcantonio earned master's and doctoral degrees in psychology from Iowa State, obtained certification in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, then returned to Rhode Island in 1975. Afterward, he was accused of molesting several more boys at a Cumberland, R.I., parish.
''They're all linked together, and they cover a whole period of years, a number of them after I left the diocese,'' Bishop Reilly said. ''Others may have gone on while I was there, but I wasn't involved in that sort of thing.''
''When that assignment (Cumberland) came, I think I was out of the diocese,'' he added. ''So, that's something that I didn't have any control over.''
Bishop Reilly said Bishop Louis E. Gelineau, head of the Providence Diocese at the time, would have had the responsibility to handle such a matter. ''He was trying to handle it as best he could,'' he said.
''I did receive word one afternoon that there had been this kind of sexual misconduct by Father Marcantonio, and he was out of the parish the next day. And that's when he was looking for some place that he could send him, either to rehabilitate him or get him help to deal with the problem he had. And there was no talk at that time of his coming back into ministry. I think that was a moot question at the time,'' he said.
Mr. Cappalli said continued controversy in the Worcester Diocese over the handling of cases involving priests accused of sexual misconduct is not unexpected.
''If you look at Reilly's past record, it's no surprise,'' he said.
After assuming responsibility for the Worcester Diocese in 1994, Bishop Reilly assigned Rev. Peter Inzerillo, a priest accused of sexually abusing a 19-year-old candidate for the priesthood, to St. Leo's Church in Leominster where he now serves.
Rev. Inzerillo's continued service, he said, is not in conflict with the diocese's zero-tolerance policy. He said the charges against Rev. Inzerillo were dropped when Edward Gagne of Spencer agreed to a $300,000 settlement in the case. Also, he said the case is unusual in that Mr. Gagne was an adult when the abuse allegedly occurred.
Ten months after arriving in Worcester, Bishop Reilly signed a confidentiality agreement in the case of a Northbridge man who said that when he was 9 he was sexually abused by Rev. Thomas A. Kane of the former House of Affirmation in Whitinsville. The sealed agreement was written to protect three priests who, while not named in the complaint, appear to have been involved in a child sex ring.
Bishop Reilly said yesterday he hopes he will judged based on allegations of sexual abuse that have happened during his seven-plus years in Worcester. If there are any, he added, none has been made public.
Richard Nangle can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; Kathleen A. Shaw can be contacted at email@example.com.
Correction: The Rev. Richard T. Buongirno, formerly a priest in East Lyme, Conn., is accused in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old boy while he was assigned to St. Matthias Church in East Lyme, Conn., in 1990. Robert Reardon, a lawyer representing the plaintiff, told the Sunday Telegram that after the alleged assault, the priest was reassigned to another parish, where he was found with a young boy in his room, then was reassigned again, and again was found with a young boy in his room. Because of a reporting error, a story in the March 17 Sunday Telegram incorrectly quoted Mr. Reardon as saying the second and third boys were sexually assaulted. No lawsuits or criminal charges have been filed in connection with either alleged incident.
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