'Heaven' Is on the Block
Abuse Victims to Benefit from Sale of Retired Priest's Cottage
By Dave Altimari
July 6, 2006
The Archdiocese of Hartford is about to sell a little piece of "Heaven" - and could make a nice profit from it.
The church bought the four-room waterfront cottage in Old Saybrook - dubbed "Heaven" - for $525,000 from retired priest Daniel McSheffery, who was accused of sexually assaulting eight former students. A sale is pending on the property, which real estate agents estimate could sell for at least $800,000.
The land deal was quietly completed as part of a $22 million settlement announced last November between the archdiocese and a group of 43 plaintiffs who claimed they had been sexually assaulted by 14 priests affiliated with the archdiocese.
Sources familiar with the land deal said the archdiocese forced McSheffery to give up the cottage because three victims had filed liens against the property and those parties would not agree to the settlement unless the property was taken away from the priest.
"What's important to note is that no money went to the priest," said attorney Jack Sitarz, who represented the archdiocese in the negotiations.
The $525,000 went to pay taxes and outstanding liens on the property including one placed on it by McSheffery's attorney Hugh Keefe, Sitarz said.
"This was an unusual case because there aren't many priests who own that kind of an asset," Sitarz said.
None of the other 13 priests named in the settlement owned any property, Sitarz said.
At least eight of the lawsuits involved in the settlement were against McSheffery. The plaintiffs charged he sexually abused them while they were young men attending the St. Augustine School in Hartford during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
When allegations against McSheffery surfaced in 2002 he was placed on administrative leave by then-Archbishop Daniel Cronin from his position as pastor at St. Augustine's Church in North Branford where he had been for 16 years.
McSheffery purchased the cottage at 27 Beach Road West in 1973 and named it Heaven. It is unclear who is about to buy it.
Proceeds from the sale of the cottage "will be used to assist victims of sexual abuse by priests," archdiocese spokesman the Rev. John P. Gatzak said.
Gatzak said the sale was "[McSheffery's] effort at restitution."
But Keefe said McSheffery wanted nothing to do with the settlement and agreed to give up the cottage rather than face a lengthy court fight to keep it.
"[The archdiocese] wanted to get something out of him for paying the settlement," Keefe said.
Keefe didn't participate in the settlement conferences in front of U.S. District Court Magistrate William I. Garfinkel, who eventually brokered the settlement with 43 plaintiffs who charged they were assaulted by 14 priests affiliated with the archdiocese.
"Father McSheffery never admitted anything. We were prepared to go to trial but the church decided to settle all of the cases," Keefe said.
McSheffery, 75, now lives in Florida and is no longer a functioning priest. Gatzak said he is not allowed to celebrate Mass, although he has not been laicized from the church. It is unclear whether the church is paying him a stipend that it pays all retired priests.
Besides paying the legal debt, the land sale also covered any back taxes and tax implications McSheffery faced for selling the home, Keefe said.
The land deal was consummated after three of the McSheffery plaintiffs dropped liens they had placed on the cottage.
"Part of the settlement ... was dropping the lien because the church needed a clean deed to make the sale," said attorney Elliot Gerstan, who represented one of the McSheffery plaintiffs. "The church got a pretty good deal on the property."
The four-room cottage sits on Long Island Sound. The back porch is about 20 yards from the ocean. It has both heat and air conditioning and is assessed at $496,800, according to town records.
Neighbors said that they hadn't seen McSheffery for at least a few years.
When reached for comment on the sale of his family's cottage, McSheffery repeatedly said "I can't hear you" when asked why the archdiocese bought his cottage and if he got any money.
A real estate agent who is selling a nearby property said houses in Chalker Beach have been selling for $700,000 to $960,000.
Contact Dave Altimari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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