Plaintiff's Attorney in Sex-Abuse Case 'Pleased' with Judge's Ruling
Norwich Diocese Will Remain a Defendant in Lawsuit, Court Says

By Day Staff Writer
The Day [New London CT]
August 2, 2002

The attorney for a young man who claims to have been sexually abused by a priest said Thursday that a recent court ruling cleared the path for him to seek punitive damages against the Norwich Diocese.

"In short, the fact that the judge held that the Diocese of Norwich will be put on trial for all of the allegations made by the plaintiff is the most successful result that we could have ever expected, and we are extremely pleased by it," said Robert Reardon, an attorney for the plaintiff.

But Joseph Sweeney, the diocese's attorney, said that McLachlan's ruling was a "dry run" for the trial.

"It has narrowed down the issues on what can go to trial," said Sweeney. "It makes it easier to present evidence and our side at trial."

In his 29-page ruling Tuesday, Judge Ian McLachlan granted the diocese's summary judgment to dismiss all claims of alleged reckless, wanton or willful misconduct against Bishop Daniel Hart. But McLachlan said that the young man, who uses the pseudonym John Doe, would be able to sue Hart on one count of negligence.

In the case of John Doe vs. Richard T. Buongirno, Doe is suing Buongirno, the diocese and Hart, alleging that beginning in 1990, when Doe was 9 years old, Buongirno sexually assaulted him on several occasions. Buongirno was the pastor of St. Matthias Church in East Lyme at the time.

Even after the diocese was made aware of an earlier sexual relationship with a teen-ager, Doe alleges, Buongirno was allowed to serve in several parishes, including Middletown, where, at a class ring ceremony at Xavier High School, he resumed his sexual predation of Doe.

McLachlan denied the diocese's request for summary judgment to dismiss claims of alleged recklessness, willful misconduct and negligence against it.

"I'm confident at the end of the case we will demonstrate that the diocese and its officials were irresponsible in its handling of pedophile reports that were made to them over the years, and this led to the tragedy of this client and others," said Reardon.

The plaintiff alleges that the diocese should have known about the illegal sexual relationship, failed to investigate it and knowingly allowed the assaults to continue.

Doe's mother complained in 1991 to the state Department of Children and Families about Buongirno's contact with her son but the agency was not able to substantiate it, Sweeney said. Reardon denies the claim that the agency could not substantiate the complaint.

In 1994, a Massachusetts man told the diocese he had a homosexual relationship with Buongirno when he was 16 to 18 years old, before Buongirno entered the seminary. They met at St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, where Buongirno was teaching.

The diocese sent Buongirno to the Institute for Living in Hartford for five months for treatment and evaluation.

After his stint at the Institute for Living, Buongirno was transferred to a parish in Cromwell. The parish priest, the Rev. Daniel McGrath, was never told why Buongirno was treated at the Institute.

Buongirno was then transferred to St. Francis of Assisi in Middletown.

In both parishes, there were incidents in which Buongirno was found to have boys in his room. In Middletown, he reportedly pilfered the collection baskets.

Hart, who has said he read the personnel files of all the priests in the diocese upon his arrival in November 1995, did nothing about the situation, Reardon said, even though the files contained the information.

McLachlan said that there was enough evidence to support the allegations that the diocese knew that Buongirno was investigated in 1991 for allegations that he had sexually assaulted the plaintiff; that Buongirno had admittedly been involved in a sexual relationship with a teen-aged boy in the past; and that on more than one occasion, Buongirno had boys in his private quarters in rectories of the various parishes to which he was assigned.

"The incidents involving Buongirno could be found by a jury to be sufficient to raise a suspicion that Buongirno was a pedophile or ephebophile who posed a threat to children in the diocese," McLachlan wrote.

McLachlan also said that Hart's role as bishop does not make him personally liable for any alleged wrongful acts by the diocese. But he did say that it would be up to a jury to decide "whether Hart acted prudently based upon what he knew regarding Buongirno and all of the surrounding circumstances."

McLachlan went on to say that a review of the evidence showed there was no basis for finding that Hart consciously acted in a wanton and willful manner.

But McLachlan could not say the same for the diocese.

"... this court cannot hold as a matter of law that the alleged failure of Diocesan Corporation to act to protect the plaintiff from sexual abuse in light of the facts known to it and the surrounding circumstances was not highly unreasonable but rather the issue is properly submitted to a jury for determination," he wrote.


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