Man Sues Diocese, Alleges Sex Abuse
Putnam Church Also Named in Accusation against Former Priest

By Day Staff Writer
The Day [New London CT]
October 10, 2002

Hartford - A Wethersfield man is suing the Norwich Catholic diocese and a local church, claiming both were partly responsible for sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a Putnam priest.

In a complaint filed in Hartford Superior Court Sept. 13, the plaintiff, identified as David Doe, charges that the diocese and administrators at St. Mary’s Church in Putnam failed to oversee and protect minors from the Rev. Bernard Bissonnette during the priest’s tenure in the 1960s at St. Mary’s, despite reports of inappropriate contact with young boys. The complaint charges that the diocese knew or should have known of the threat Bissonnette posed to young parishioners.

The complaint says that Bissonnette abused the plaintiff between 1960 and 1962, when the victim was between the ages of 7 and 9, the complaint says. The complaint outlines a number of sexual acts the priest forced the plaintiff to perform on the priest and other children. The incidents typically took place on church property.

Richard Kenny, the victim’s lawyer, said the plaintiff has suffered significant psychiatric and physical harm as a result of the abuse. The complaint describes a series of ailments, including seizures that resulted in fractured legs, arms and wrists, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal tendencies. The plaintiff has received treatment at several institutions for severe psychiatric disorders. The "injuries and damages were through act and omissions which constitute negligence and carelessness" on the part of the diocese and the church, the complaint says.

Kenny said his client filed the suit after trying to speak directly to diocesan officials. Frustrated with the progress of the discussions, the man saw no alternative but to take the matter to court, Kenny said. The case was filed 17 days before the statute of limitations expired. A bill passed by the Connecticut legislature in May extended to 30 years from 17 the length of time a case could be filed from the date the victim reaches the age of majority.

The plaintiff is seeking more than $15,000 in monetary damages, as well as punitive damages, exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees and costs. Kenny said that he has been in contact with Michael Driscoll, the diocesan attorney, but no negotiations have taken place.

Kenny said his client decided not to sue Bissonnette, whose last known address is in New Mexico, because of the man’s limited finances and the difficulty in pursuing a case out of state.

A decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court in May 2002 outlined the frequent transfers and apparent cover-up that allowed Bissonnette to continue to perpetrate abuse on young boys. The case related to a New Mexico man’s attempt to sue the Norwich diocese for abuse he suffered after the diocese sent Bissonnette to New Mexico.

The diocese had suspended Bissonnette in 1963 after reports of inappropriate conduct with boys, the court documents said. He was sent to the Via Coeli Center in New Mexico for counseling for pedophilia. In 1964, Bissonnette sought to return to Connecticut but was refused by church officials, who recommended that he seek a bishop who would accept him. Bissonnette briefly worked at a parish in Duluth, Minn., before returning to New Mexico, where he was assigned to another church. Bissonnette was dismissed from the Archdiocese of Sante Fe in 1968 for sexual molestation, the court documents said.


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