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  Priest's Accuser Assails Process
Albany-- Alleged Victim Said Cleric's Suspension Came Nine Months after the Initial Complaint

By Andrew Tilghman
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
April 16, 2003

The Albany Diocese's suspension of a priest and former high school principal last week came more than nine months after one of his former students contacted the church with allegations of sexual abuse dating back to the 1970s, the alleged victim said Tuesday.

The Albany Diocese's preliminary investigation that found the allegations "credible" took far longer than those in some other dioceses and appears to put local Catholic leaders at odds with a new national sexual abuse policy calling for prompt inquiries.

The protracted process was not what the alleged victim -- now an insurance company executive living downstate -- expected when he asked to meet with Bishop Howard Hubbard and other priests on July 3, 2002.

"They just nodded and looked very sad and said, 'That's terrible,' and said, 'Oh, we'll get back to you,' " said the 47-year-old married father who asked that his name not be used. "My sense of it, six months into it, was that they thought I would just go away."

Last week, the diocese suspended the Rev. John Connolly, who was the principal at St. Peter's Academy in Saratoga Springs, now called Saratoga Central Catholic High School. The man said Connolly lured him to a cabin on Saratoga Lake in the early 1970s and forced him to have sex.

Two people have filed complaints against Connolly, who has denied wrongdoing, the diocese said. The church's nine-member misconduct panel recommended that Hubbard remove Connolly, 67, from active ministry pending further investigation.

Hubbard and Connolly are longtime friends. They were seminary classmates at Mater Christi in Albany in 1964. Until last week, Connolly played an active role in the diocese's financial management, serving as chaplain for diocesan cemeteries and interim chair of the Priests Retirement Board.

In 1972, Connolly left Saratoga and took over as principal at Cardinal McCloskey High School in Albany, where two men who served under him as assistant principals have been recently identified as alleged child molesters.

The diocese declined to comment on specific aspects of the alleged victim's account. "This incident has been under continuous investigation by the review panel since the complaint was first brought to our attention," the church said in a written statement Tuesday.

The man who filed the complaint differs from others who have spoken out in recent months in that he is an affluent professional. He said he did not have an attorney when he contacted the church and was not primarily concerned about a financial settlement, such as those provided to numerous other alleged victims.

"I wanted them to admit it occurred, and I wanted him out," the man said. "I don't know if they excommunicate people anymore, but I want him out."

The man met with Hubbard last summer just days after the bishop had publicly removed six priests from ministry to comply with the new nationwide zero-tolerance rule adopted by U.S. bishops in Dallas.

The man said Hubbard's demeanor and response surprised him.

"He looked drained. It was almost like he was looking for sympathy from me because he had to remove six priests," he said. "I looked at him and said, 'That's your problem, not my problem.' "

At the same July 3 meeting, Hubbard introduced the man to the Rev. Edward Deimeke, the diocesan advocate. According to church law, the advocate helps represent a priest in disciplinary proceedings before a canonical tribunal. The man said no one at the church told him about Deimeke's job title and his possible conflict of interest.

"They acted like he was supposed to help me," the man said.

But as the months passed, Deimeke was little help, the man said.

"They never called me. Every time I had to call them. They were sweet as saccharine, but they never told me anything," he said.

Late last year, he met with the church's investigator, retired State Police Investigator Thomas Martin, who laid out photographs of numerous priests and asked him to identify Connolly, he said.

On Friday last week, he said, Deimeke informed him that the bishop had decided to suspend Connolly from ministry. The man said Deimeke told him the removal would be announced on Sunday and asked him to remain quiet and be sensitive to the church's public-relations concerns.

"He said, 'I'll have to ask you not to say anything because we have a PR process we have to go through,' " the man said. "That to me was a slap in the face."

On Monday the man learned, through media reports, that his alleged abuser had denied the abuse. "I'm really kind of crestfallen that he won't fess up," the man said.

Also Monday, the man contacted attorney John Aretakis, who represents several victims of sexual abuse by Albany priests, and indicated his interest in speaking to reporters from Albany.

Last year's new national policy on sexual abuse in the Catholic church gives bishops discretion on how long an initial inquiry should take before determining whether to suspend a priest during a thorough investigation.

The church policy states that the investigation "be initiated and conducted promptly and objectively."

That means it should take "a matter of days," according to William Burleigh, a retired journalist from Ohio who sits on the 12-member National Review Board set up last year to monitor American bishops' compliance with the new rules.

Some other dioceses around the country have acted more quickly on reports of sexual abuse by priests.

In Florida, the Diocese of Orlando in March removed the Rev. Peter Uniowski from a Lakeland parish on the same day it received a complaint alleging the priest had sexually abused a child.

In Wisconsin, the Diocese of Madison removed the Rev. Robert DeCock on Dec. 31, less than two weeks after an allegation was lodged, church officials said. "Here we have acted very quickly," said Bill Brophy, a spokesman for the diocese.

In New Hampshire, the Diocese of Manchester placed the Rev. Paul L. Gregoire on administrative leave on Dec. 6 about one week after a victim came forward with new allegations of abuse, a diocesan spokesman said.

 
 

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