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  St. Bernard High Principal Accused of Sexual Abuse
Casimano Resigns After Two Brothers Make Allegations

By Allison Frank and Bethe Dufresne
The Day [New London CT]
January 21, 2004

Montvi The interim principal of St. Bernard High School has resigned after allegations that he sexually abused two boys a quarter of a century ago.

The Diocese of Norwich released a statement Tuesday saying the Rev. Santino A. Casimano stepped down immediately after he learned of the charges Jan. 7.

The diocese said that two brothers are accusing Casimano of sexually abusing them when they were minors, 26 years ago. It is unclear how old the brothers were at the time of the alleged abuse.

Casimano, who became interim principal July 1, declined to comment when reached by phone at his home in Montville.

The alleged abuse appears to stem from Casimano's years as a priest in New Mexico. Casimano, now 61, was ordained in 1975 in the Diocese of Gallup, where he served in parishes and missions on a Navajo Indian Reservation.

The diocese's chancellor and spokesman, Deacon Timoteo Lujan, said Tuesday night that the diocese was notified Tuesday of a lawsuit that had been filed against Casimano in Orange County, Calif. Lujan said the diocese had not been served with a lawsuit pertaining to Casimano as of Tuesday night, and said he did not know any details about the Orange County suit. Lujan, who was reached at home, said he could not recall details of Casimano's history with the diocese without his office files.

The Rev. Michael R. Cote, bishop of the Norwich diocese, which runs St. Bernard High School and St. Bernard Academy, a middle school, said the high school has begun searching for a new principal. Cote said in a statement Tuesday that it was difficult to hear the allegations against Casimano, whom he described as a "very popular principal."

"My heart goes out to Father Casimano..." Cote said. "At the same time, my heart also goes out to the young men making these allegations for the sufferings they have experienced over the years."

"I pray they will find healing and reconciliation," Cote said in the statement, which was sent out to the diocese's 78 parishes. "Please keep them in your prayers."

There is no indication of alleged abuse by Casimano during his time at St. Bernard, Cote said. But Cote urged people to come forward if they had been treated "inappropriately," saying the church would be ready to assist them "in any way we can."

Casimano served as a Navy chaplain for 20 years and previously volunteered as a chaplain to the Groton City Police Department. He had been serving part-time at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Quaker Hill, but has also left that post. The diocese's policy when an accusation of sexual abuse is made is to take the accused out of active service.

Casimano's resignation and news of allegations against him shocked parents and members of the St. Bernard community.

Faculty members were generally unwilling to talk about the resignation. Asked how it felt when the announcement was made, one teacher said the question was akin to asking how it felt when someone close had died.

"We don't know what's true and not true," said Robin Raunig of New London, whose daughter, Kate, is a freshman at the high school. "We talked about how you're innocent until proven guilty."

Teachers and administrators at St. Bernard were "right up front with the kids today," she said. Students in her daughter's theology class discussed the situation Tuesday, she said, and her daughter came home from school upset but able to discuss her emotions.

"We prayed for him," she said. "We talked about his age, his family, about being human ... just a lot of things."

Another parent, Isabel Nossek of New London, said "the school did the right thing" regarding Casimano. "The school had no choice," she said, adding that her children, a freshman and sixth-grader, "feel sad, because they liked him very much."

Casimano received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Navy in January 2000, when he stepped down as the command chaplain of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. He said in an interview with The Day at the time that he planned to return to the Navajo Reservation when he retired from the Navy.

However, by August of the same year he accepted the post of chaplain at St. Bernard and also became head of the school's theology department. Casimano had begun teaching at St. Bernard as a volunteer adjunct faculty member in January 1999. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Casimano was raised in Los Angeles.

The Diocese of Gallup and one of its parishes also face another newly filed lawsuit, in which 27 adults say that 25 priests and a parish custodian sexually abused them. According to the Gallup Independent newspaper, most of the priests named in the lawsuit had worked for the Los Angeles Archdiocese or other California dioceses or religious orders. Deacon Lujan said Casimano is not named in the larger lawsuit, filed in December.

The lawsuits against the Gallup diocese and Casimano appear to be among a flurry of suits filed by hundreds of plaintiffs in California in the final days of 2003. The state legislature passed a law allowing victims of sexual abuse by priests to sue the church and their alleged abusers even if the victims are older than 26 when the statute of limitations for such charges typically expire. The deadline to file lawsuits under the new law was Jan. 1, 2004.

a.frank@theday.com
b.dufresne@theday.com

 
 

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