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  Diocese Reveals Abuse Claims

By Katie Melone
Norwich (CT) Bulletin
May 9, 2002

Norwich, CT - Nearly a day after the bishop of the Norwich Diocese apologized for failing to notify authorities of a letter alleging sexual abuse by a priest, the diocese Wednesday turned over eight allegations of child sexual abuse to the state Department of Children and Families, an agency spokesman said.

The department previously had received only one report from the diocese, which is required by law to notify authorities of child sex abuse reports within 24 hours. DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt would not comment on the specifics of the newly reported cases.

The Most Rev. Daniel A. Hart, responding to a Norwich Bulletin inquiry, admitted Monday that he did not notify DCF about a letter from a former Putnam resident who alleges that, 40 years ago, he was sexually abused as a child by two priests.

Complaints and lawsuits of clergy sexual abuse have shaken the Roman Catholic Church since January, when the Boston Globe first reported that a priest had been shuffled from parish to parish despite repeated complaints that he was abusing children.

In an interview Wednesday, Hart would not comment on whether a review of diocesan personnel files since January has resulted in contact with DCF, but did say he would comply with the law.

Meanwhile, the New London County State's Attorney Kevin Kane said Wednesday his department has "violated the law" by not notifying DCF when it was made aware of child sexual abuse where the alleged perpetrator is "someone unconnected with the family" and the abuse happens outside the home.

"Up until today ... we have never notified DCF unless it's been in a situation where there was evidence of abuse or neglect in the home," Kane said.

DCF would not respond directly to Kane's comments.

"We are going to review the matter with the state's attorney's office," Kleeblatt said.

But, Kleeblatt added, "Ordinarily we would investigate where the allegations involve a caregiver such as a parent. We would also investigate if it involves a teacher or a day-care provider. The kinds of cases he's describing are conventional criminal cases."

Kane said that in the past, "if it's quite apparent that DCF will not have involvement" in an investigation of a child sexual abuse case, law enforcement was not likely to report the allegation to DCF.

"I suspect law enforcement agencies are not going to be calling DCF to report this matter to them, as they would when you get a complaint where a child says, 'My stepfather has been sexually abusing me.'"

But, according to state statute, if a mandated reporter - which includes clergy, teachers and law enforcement - first contacts law enforcement of an allegation of sexual abuse, "it (law enforcement) shall immediately notify the Commissioner of Children and Families."

Kane defended the diocese, saying it followed the law and its own sexual abuse policy by "consistently informing this office of any allegation of criminal misconduct."

Possible oversight

Kane said the diocese may not have been made aware that it had to notify DCF in certain cases, such as the letter it received from Charles Vigeant, a former Putnam resident alleging abuse in the early '60s when he was as young as 6 years old. Kane said because Vigeant, 47, is now an adult, it would be assumed that he would be capable of reporting his allegations to the police or DCF.

"We have not told them they have had to tell DCF," Kane said. "This may have been an oversight on our part, but it may not have been either."

Kane said the issue of reporting allegations of past child sexual abuse made by victims who are now adults was not part of a training session on child sexual abuse the state's attorney's office conducted with diocesan priests and officials May 18, 1994. The Most. Rev. Daniel P. Reilly was bishop at the time.

"That's certainly not the type of incident we were contemplating and addressing at the time," Kane said.

The New London County Judicial District is just one of four within the geographical boundaries of the Norwich Diocese. In Windham County, State's Attorney Patricia M. Froehlich said the diocese has "appropriately communicated" with her since her appointment in July 2001. She would not comment further.

Tolland County State's Attorney Paul Murray said he had received no reports from the diocese; In Middlesex County, State's Attorney Timothy Liston could not be reached for comment.

In the wake of the new DCF reports, Windham County brothers Gene Michael and John Deary have renewed their call for the diocese to turn over files involving a diocesan priest who they say raped and molested their brother, Thomas Deary III, in the 1960s. Thomas Deary committed suicide in 1991.

The Dearys said the suicide was the result of mental illness caused by several incidents of sexual abuse by the Rev. Bernard Bissonnette, then assigned to St. Mary's Church in Putnam.

Bissonnette left the diocese in the 1960s and was transferred to a monastic treatment center and then to nine parishes in New Mexico, Michigan and Minnesota and left each parish after he was accused of similar abuse. In December 1998, a New Mexico Court of Appeals found the diocese could be sued for damages by a New Mexico victim who alleges Bissonnette abused him between 1966 and 1968. The diocese appealed the decision and the case is pending.

The diocese is a defendant in at least three other cases. The most recent, filed in June 2000 in Norwich Superior Court, names Hart in a suit against the Rev. Richard T. Buongirno, a former priest who served at St. Matthias Parish in East Lyme. Buongirno was arrested in 1999 for allegedly abusing a child shortly after he arrived in East Lyme. Attorneys involved in the case say the suit likely will go to trial in 2003.

The diocese is also a defendant in a 1995 case in which twin brothers, Matthew and Mark Nutt, claimed they were repeatedly abused by their parish priest, the Rev. Thomas J. Doyle, while he served at St. Bernard Parish in Tolland County in the late 1970s. According to the lawsuit, Doyle was finally relieved of his duties in 1992 after the diocese transferred him three times from 1976 to 1992.

In 1993, a lawsuit was filed in Middletown against the diocese and the Rev. Raymond Jean, who was last assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Gales Ferry in 1984. The suit was filed by Tracy Beach, who lived in Manchester at the time, and claimed that Jean had repeatedly sexually assaulted, sexually abused and sexually exploited him from ages 9 to 13. The diocese was exonerated on all charges, but a separate suit filed by Beach against the inheritors of Jean's estate was recently settled. Jean died in 2000.

 
 

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