Former Pastor Facing Sexual-Abuse Lawsuit
By Josh Kovner
December 12, 2003
A fourth person has claimed in a lawsuit that he was abused sexually for years by the Rev. Daniel C. McSheffery, the former director of the St. Augustine School in Hartford and pastor of St. George Church in Guilford.
The first three complaints were lodged anonymously within the past 18 months against the 73-year-old cleric. But in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Superior Court in New Haven, Peter Sinclair has put his name behind charges that McSheffery molested him at will for more than seven years, beginning in 1978, when Sinclair was an 11-year-old altar boy at St. George.
The Archdiocese of Hartford had no direct reply to the latest charges against McSheffery, but said McSheffery was removed from his most recent posting at St. Augustine Church in North Branford last year and is no longer functioning as a priest anywhere in the world.
McSheffery, who has a beachfront home in Old Saybrook and a house in Jupiter, Fla., could not be reached for comment Thursday. Two of his other accusers were former altar boys at St. Augustine in Hartford and the third was a parishioner at St. George. Those three lawsuits are pending. A well-known figure in Hartford, McSheffery once had a day named in his honor by the city's mayor in 1972.
Sinclair is a 37-year-old state resident who went to Connecticut College. He is coming forward now "because he can no longer deny the severe emotional damage that resulted from the abuse," said his attorney, Thomas M. McNamara of New Haven.
Sinclair put his name on the lawsuit "because it is the first step in fighting the guilt that he has carried, the guilt of not fighting back much sooner. He is saying, `Here I am.' He is saying publicly that these very, very embarrassing things happened to him. This is courage," said McNamara.
The lawsuit also names the archdiocese and St. George Church, and asks for unspecified money damages.
The complaint alleges a torturous cycle: McSheffery would shower Sinclair with praise, saying things like "God has great plans for him," then physically intimidate him by grabbing his collar or leaning his body against him. That would be followed by sexual abuse - in the basement, the sacristy and in other places at St. George. Afterward, the compliments and fatherly advice would resume, and the cycle of manipulation would repeat, the lawsuit charges. On some occasions, the priest allegedly plied the boy with alcohol.
"It was a terrible way to grow up," said McNamara, who also represents four men who contend in a lawsuit that the Archdiocese of Hartford failed to protect them as children from a sexually abusive priest, the late Rev. Thomas Glynn.
McSheffery's attorney, Hugh F. Keefe of New Haven, fired back at McNamara and Sinclair Thursday evening.
"It's open season on Roman Catholic priests," said Keefe, who represents several of them. "Plaintiffs and their lawyers sense all they have to do is file a lawsuit and the church will settle the case for cash - and they're not far wrong. The archdiocese has lost its will to fight."
Keefe also said that Sinclair had remained friends with McSheffery until recently.
McNamara countered: "It's open season on bad priests and bad bishops. It's because of the lawsuits that some churches have made changes."
He said Sinclair and McSheffery had had sporadic contact over the past nine years.
"They last talked in June 2002, when McSheffery was accused by the others. McSheffery called Peter. That led Peter to the realization that he had to confront what McSheffery had done to him, which he had buried for so long."
The Rev. John P. Gatzak, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Hartford, said the church wanted the McSheffery case to work through the court system "without prejudicial publicity.
"The archdiocese is committed to do all it can ... to make sure children are absolutely protected from the insidious crime of sexual abuse," Gatzak said.
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