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  Ex-St. Bernard Principal Denies Charges
Brothers' Sex-Abuse Accusations Date to 70s

By Megan Bard
The Day [New London CT]
January 22, 2004

Montville - The former interim principal of St. Bernard High School denied Wednesday having sexually abused two brothers who are accusing him in a California civil suit.
When asked Wednesday in a telephone interview whether the allegations were valid, the Rev. Santino A. Casimano said, "Of course not."

The suit, filed against the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, where he was ordained in 1975, charges that the abuse occurred 26 years ago. Casimano said he remembers his accusers but the memories are "very, very dim."

After an assembly for students, faculty and staff at the Catholic high school in Uncasville Tuesday, the Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, bishop of the Norwich diocese, released a statement saying that Casimano resigned as interim principal when he was notified of the allegations.

"My heart goes out to Father Casimano, but in light of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, there is no other option," Cote said. The charter is the diocese's policy for handling allegations of abuse.

The bishop told students at the assembly that if anyone had been inappropriately treated, they should come forward and the church would assist them.

Casimano said he resigned out of deep concern for the school.

"I think it was best for the school, which was my number one concern. I resigned and said it would be best that I not be present in any way, shape or form at the school unless it was to clear my things," he said.

Asked if further allegations could be made against him, particularly from his tenure at St. Bernard, Casimano said, "1 don't see how it could be possible. My God, I would be absolutely astounded if anybody would ever come forward, unless someone would mistake a pat on the shoulder, like teachers do."

A court clerk in Orange County, Calif., said Wednesday that her office did not have a record of the civil suit against the Diocese of Gallup, in which Casimano is named. She said the suit may be buried in an influx of civil suits filed in the waning hours of 2003 to meet a state-imposed deadline.

A special law allowed people who claimed to have been abused by clergy to file suit even if they had passed the age of 26, normally the age at which the statute of limitations applies.

Casimano said that an attorney for the Gallup diocese informed him that he is not a direct defendant in the suit. Casimano said he and several other priests are named in the narrative section of the suit as having committed improper acts.

During the mid-1970s, while under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Gallup, Casimano said, he went to work for the Diocese of Orange in California. It is during this time that the accusations are alleged to have happened.

Casimano said he has received only a letter from the law firm representing the Gallup diocese and has not seen a copy of the suit. He said he believes there will not be a trial because the diocese and the plaintiffs are proceeding with mediation.

The Gallup diocese's chancellor and spokesman, Deacon Timoteo Lujan, said Tuesday that the the diocese had not been served with a lawsuit pertaining to Casimano as of that day.

Casimano said that on Jan. 7, immediately after receiving notice from the Gallup diocese's attorney, he contacted Cote. The two met on the morning of Jan. 8, Casimano said, and he then informed the bishop about the allegations. Casimano said he then resigned from his post at St. Bernard and his weekend assignment at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Quaker Hill.

Casimano had been at St. Bernard since 1998, starting as a volunteer adjunct faculty member. He was named head of the theology department and appointed chaplain in August 2000. He has been the interim principal since July.

The shock of the accusations against this popular principal and teacher and retired Navy chaplain, was still fresh Wednesday.

"He was an all-around great guy," said former student Brian Martin by phone from his dorm at Assumption College in Worcester Wednesday. "I talked to him a lot during my senior year about school and college decisions. He helped me a lot with my choices."

Martin, a 2002 graduate from Gales Ferry, recalled Casimano meeting with student athletes prior to a match or game to offer prayer.

"I can't see him committing what he's been accused of," Martin said. "I have nothing bad to say about him."

Norwich Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Howard Bennett, who is also now the acting principal at the high school, said that students and staff remained concerned about the situation but that normal school schedules resumed Wednesday. A counselor and a priest were available to those who needed to discuss the situation and teachers were free to discuss the events with their students.

Bennett said the search has begun for a new principal. The school's Board of Advisors expects to review resumes in late February.

Bennett said he will send a letter to parents this week assuring them that the high school, and the St. Bernard Academy, its middle school, are "thriving and viable institutions" that will "move forward through this personal tragedy."

Staff Writer Allison Frank contributed this report. m.bard@theday.com

 
 

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