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Norwich Diocese, Former Priest Agree to Settle Sex-Abuse Lawsuit
Plaintiffs Complaint Resolved for $700,000

By Kenton Robinson
The Day [New London CT]
March 4, 2003

The Norwich Diocese and a former priest have agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a young man who said the priest sexually abused him when he was a child.

The young man, who filed suit under the pseudonym John Doe, alleged that the Rev. Richard T. Buongirno began sexually molesting him in 1990, when Doe was 9 years old. Buongirno was the pastor of St. Matthias Church in East Lyme at the time.

The diocese and Bishop Daniel A. Hart were named co-defendants in the suit.

Under the settlement announced Monday, the diocese and Buongirno have each agreed to pay Doe $350,000. The diocese's insurance carrier will pay its share of the settlement, said Joseph Sweeney, the lawyer representing the diocese.

"We think this is a very fair resolution," said Robert I. Reardon Jr., the lawyer representing Doe. "It saved my client from having to go through the ordeal of a trial, and he felt he got justice."

The settlement was reached after four months of mediation by the federal magistrate, Judge William I. Garfinkel, in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport. The diocese issued a press release Monday saying that it had "resolved" the claim through the mediation process.

In his suit, filed almost three years ago in New London Superior Court, Doe alleged that Buongirno sexually molested him as a child and again when Doe was a teenager attending Xavier High School in Middletown.

Before the suit went to mediation, Reardon argued in court that the diocese never did a background check on Buongirno before admitting him to the priesthood.

Diocesan officials, including then-Norwich Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, "turned a blind eye" when Doe's mother filed a complaint against Buongirno with the state Department of Children and Families in 1991, Reardon said.

Sweeney said that, on the contrary, the bishop sought information about the complaint and was told by DCF officials "a complaint had come in, been investigated and was unsubstantiated. That was the information the bishop was working on."

And when Hart learned that Buongirno had taken Doe on a trip out West in 1998 after Doe's graduation from high school, he ordered Buongirno to return immediately, Sweeney said.

"Hart immediately removed him from the ministry," Sweeney said. "And the diocese reported this to the local prosecuting attorney. A lot of people try to knock the Catholic Church for not reporting these things."

Reardon is representing three other plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits against the Norwich Diocese:

Michael Nelligan, in a case filed Aug. 14, which also names as defendants Reilly, St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church and the Rev. Bruno Primavera.

John L. Doe, in a case filed Sept. 5, which also names as defendants Reilly, St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church in New London, Monsignor Thomas Bride and Primavera.

Michael Hayes, in a case filed Dec. 19, which also names as defendants Reilly and The Our Lady of Lourdes Corp. The Rev. Raymond Jean, the priest accused in that case, is deceased.

Reardon also is representing four clients in lawsuits filed last year against the Rev. Stephen C. Foley and the Hartford Archdiocese.

Asked if the diocese's decision to settle the Buongirno suit would have any effect on the other cases, Reardon said, "From my perspective, it should. However ... the diocese has taken an approach of defending each case.

"I would think that now that they've acknowledged fault they would be willing to sit down and acknowledge the same fault in the other cases, but they have not."

Sweeney took umbrage at this comment, pointing out "the settlement document signed by Mr. Reardon's own client acknowledges the fact that the diocese does not acknowledge any fault here. This was a compromise resolution. Basically, the diocese and its officials deny that they did anything wrong."

Sweeney stressed that the settlement was actually two separate settlements, one involving Buongirno, and the second, the diocese. He said that when Buongirno offered to pay $350,000 in his own money to settle the case, the mediator asked the diocese if it would match it.

Reardon said that Doe recently graduated from college and is working as a nurse "in a major metropolitan hospital."

Doe did not wish to comment on the settlement, Reardon said.

"He wants to move on with his life, and he would prefer not to have any contact with the media," he said. "He's not interested in being a poster boy."

 
 

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