Files on Ex-Priest Ordered Released in Sex-Abuse Case
Norwich Diocese Must Share Records with Local Attorney

By Kenton Robinson
The Day [New London CT]
April 11, 2003

A Middletown Superior Court judge has ordered the Norwich Diocese to turn over the personnel files of the Rev. Bruno Primavera, who is accused of sexually abusing a young Westbrook man in the late 1970s.

Michael Nelligan is suing Primavera and the diocese, alleging that Primavera molested him in 1977 and 1978 when Primavera was a priest at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Westbrook.

Robert I. Reardon Jr., the attorney representing Nelligan, also is representing another plaintiff, using the pseudonym John Doe, who alleges Primavera sexually molested him after Primavera was transferred to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in New London.
Both plaintiffs were teenagers at the time they say they were molested.

Reardon said he believes the files contain letters "from bishops to bishops and from priests to priests concerning transfers of Primavera."

"My argument was that it's high time the Catholic Church stop covering up," Reardon said Thursday. "I need these documents to demonstrate that the Catholic Church is covering up."

The diocese had sought a protective order to prevent the disclosure of the personnel files, arguing their disclosure in the media could impair the defendant's right to a fair trial.

But Daniel F. Spallone, a judge trial referee for the court, ruled otherwise.

"AII courts have experienced scrutiny where the case is subject to intense media focus. It is rarely shown that such concentration results in an unfair trial of the accused," Spallone said. "Furthermore, it is well established that democracy, truth and justice flourish in the bright light of openness, where, on the other hand, they wilt in the shadows of secrecy."

Joseph T. Sweeney, the attorney representing the diocese, said Thursday that he did not plan to appeal the judge's ruling.

"The position I took was that these documents could be handed over but not exploited by the news media," Sweeney said.

Primavera was never an employee of the Norwich Diocese, Sweeney said. A Fairfield County native, he came down from the Toronto Archdiocese to be closer to his recently widowed mother and to serve the Norwich Diocese on "a one-year-at-a-time trial basis."

Primavera served at St. Mark's beginning in June 1978, Sweeney said, and on Sept. 7, 1979, was reassigned to St. Mary, where he served until Feb. 7, 1980.

"And at that stage Bishop Daniel Reilly decided he no longer wanted to have him around and sent him back to Toronto," Sweeney said. "After that, he did bounce around."

Ultimately, Primavera ended up at New Mexico Military Institute, where he was arrested, convicted and served time in prison for a sexual offense involving military students, Reardon said.

Asked whether Bishop Reilly sent Primavera back to Toronto because of sexual abuse of minors, Sweeney said he did not.

"The diocese had no prior awareness that there was sexual abuse of children until the very end, and it wasn't an overt suggestion," Sweeney said. "But rather it was that he was seen in certain places unbecoming of a priest."

Nelligan in his lawsuit alleges that, when he was 14 and 15 years old, Primavera on numerous occasions kissed him, fondled his genitals, performed oral sex on him and masturbated him.

In his lawsuit, Doe alleges that Primavera lured him to his rectory bedroom by asking the 14-year-old to listen to records. He then assaulted Doe, Reardon said.

Reardon had argued that the personnel files were relevant and necessary to the plaintiffs case against the diocese.

"The defendant Diocese and its bishops Reilly and (Daniel) Hart rely, in no small part, upon the contents of these reports to support their claims that they acted properly in variously making Primavera priest, and in allowing him to continue as a priest after his propensity for forbidden sex was discovered," Reardon argued in his brief.

Primavera, who now lives in New Britain, is no longer a priest. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

"Judge Spallone was not interested in Mr. Sweeney's argument that I wanted these documents so I could spread them throughout the media," Reardon said. "And Mr. Sweeney is the one that was worried about the media spreading it about."

Sweeney responded: "The judge has ruled, so Mr. Reardon's going to have these records, and if he wishes to wave them in front of you or the TV cameras, he's free to do so."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.