Diocese: No Link between News of Audit, Settlement

By Neil Vigdor
Greenwich Time [Connecticut]
October 19, 2003

In what was a busy week for the Diocese of Bridgeport, church leaders announced the findings of an independent audit commending the institution for its efforts to eradicate the sexual abuse of children from its priesthood just four days before agreeing to a $21 million settlement with several of its victims.

Was it chance the way the two events unfolded, or an attempt to save face in anticipation of a settlement?

"I think, in retrospect, they were laying the foundation for the announcement," said Jason Tremont, a lawyer for the 40 victims who were awarded the settlement.

Church leaders and their lay supporters took umbrage at the suggestion that they strategically timed the two announcements, explaining that they had received several inquiries about the status of the audit in recent weeks.

"It was pure coincidence," said James Larkin, a Greenwich resident and member of the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board. "My opinion is that any desire for the diocese to spin, if there had been one, was not concurred in."

Diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer echoed those comments, saying church leaders openly acknowledged a settlement was imminent when they announced the audit's findings.

Bishop William Lori told Greenwich Time and The Advocate in an interview last weekend that a Boston-based auditor found the diocese "in total compliance" with a uniform sexual abuse policy adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The audit extolled the diocese for creating a special office to oversee mandatory background checks of its employees and an internal public-awareness campaign on sexual abuse.

"It's been a busy week," McAleer said. "We've had important news on several fronts, and, as the bishop said, 'This about moving forward and doing the right thing.' "

Lori was back in front of the microphones again Thursday, outlining the terms of what is believed to be the third-largest settlement related to the sexual abuse of children by the clergy.

Sixteen priests, 11 of whom worked in Greenwich, Stam-ford, Darien or Norwalk at some point in their careers, were named in the settlement that was nearly a year in the making. Lori apologized to the victims, who were children at the time of the abuse.

His handling of the situation earned high marks from some of his biggest supporters, who said Lori has taken on a great responsibility.

"My observation is that up until now all of the damage control in the diocese has been handled by the bishop," said Thomas Heithaus, a parishioner of Greenwich's St. Paul Church with close ties to the bishop. "He's pretty well unflappable."

Heithaus' own parish was consumed by the scandal last December, when its pastor, the Rev. Albert McGoldrick, resigned amid sexual abuse allegations. McGoldrick was one of the 16 priests named in the settlement.

Church leaders accounted for the status of all of the priests named in the settlement. Three of the priests are dead, while 12 of the remaining 13 have relinquished their pulpits as a result of the misconduct claims, according to the diocese, which allowed another clergyman to continue in the ministry after ruling that he did not pose a threat to children.

Among those to credit Lori for his directness and sense of media savvy was the Rev. Nicholas Calabro, pastor of St. Roch Church in Greenwich's Chickahominy neighborhood.

"I think he's been a great leader," Calabro said. "Thank God. A lot of us clergy and (the laity) would probably want to get this all behind us more quietly."


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