Diocese Tells Priest to Leave
By Elizabeth Hamilton and Dave Altimari
March 28, 2007
The Archdiocese of Hartford has ordered the Rev. Stephen Foley, suspected of being a child molester, to leave St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield and sell the police-equipped Crown Victoria he's been driving for years even though he no longer serves as a police or fire chaplain.
The decision was made by Archbishop Henry Mansell and communicated to Foley Tuesday afternoon in a phone call from the Rev. Gerard G. Schmitz, the vicar for priests, according to diocesan spokesman the Rev. John Gatzak.
"The bishop has taken immediate action," Gatzak said. "Stephen Foley is no longer welcome to reside at St. Thomas Seminary. He has been asked to make immediate plans to vacate and he's been told to get rid of the car."
Gatzak said he doesn't know what, if any, response Foley made to Schmitz.
Foley will not be housed in a different diocesan-owned building, Gatzak said.
"I asked the archbishop where [Foley] would live and he gave me the impression that that's [Foley's] concern. He's got to find a place," Gatzak said, adding that Foley does not have to stay in Connecticut.
Foley's attorney, Walter R. Hampton Jr., said Tuesday night it is "incorrect" to say that his client is leaving the seminary.
"That would be a very disappointing outcome if that were the case," Hampton said. "There certainly would need to be some legal and ecumenical issues resolved before that were to happen."
Hampton said Foley still has the car.
"There would be absolutely no reason for him to turn in the car. The fact he drives a Crown Victoria is no different than me driving a Subaru," Hampton said.
When told of Hampton's comments, Gatzak responded simply, "When the archbishop says something, the archbishop means it."
The diocese will continue to pay Foley a monthly stipend and provide him with health insurance because it is obligated to do so for all of its priests after they are ordained, Gatzak said. Foley was ordered not to wear the Roman collar in 2002, but he has not been stripped of his status as a priest, or laicized.
The action from the diocese follows stories in The Courant Sunday and Tuesday revealing that Foley, a former state police and fire chaplain, is still driving a Crown Victoria, complete with flashing lights, sirens and radios, despite the numerous complaints of sexual abuse against him.
Eleven men have made allegations against Foley since 1993, saying the priest lured them with his position as chaplain and his pseudo-police car. The boys were attracted by the lights and sirens, they said, and the access Foley had to fire and accident scenes, lawsuits allege. Most of the alleged incidents occurred during the 1970s.
The diocese removed Foley from his Glastonbury parish in 1993, following the first abuse complaint, and put him at the seminary, where he has performed no duties but received free room and board, a monthly stipend of more than $1,000 and health insurance.
Foley continued to serve as chaplain to the Hartford Fire Department and the New England Association of Fire Chiefs throughout the 1990s, and was chaplain for the Connecticut State Police until December 1994. A state police investigation of the molestation complaints against Foley was opened in 1993, but prosecutors refused to sign an arrest warrant because the statute of limitations had expired.
Gatzak said Foley had planned to go away with friends today but left on Saturday instead because he knew there was going to be a story in The Courant Sunday. He was not ordered to leave Saturday.
According to a priest who attended a Presbyteral Council meeting with Mansell and other church leaders Monday afternoon, the issue of how the archdiocese should handle the Foley matter was discussed.
The meeting was cordial, but several council members were clearly distressed by the news about Foley, the priest said.
"There were several priests who were genuinely shocked that Father Foley was still driving around in that type of car," said the priest, who did not want to be identified. "We just hope that he hasn't done anything to anyone recently."
Some priests advised Mansell that Foley should no longer be at the seminary and that the archbishop needed to protect the archdiocese by removing Foley from the priesthood. Some council members also expressed concerns about young people from the YMCA or the University of Hartford using the seminary facilities with Foley living there.
"Several priests pointed out it would be very uncomfortable to keep him at the seminary, but there were others who were concerned that by cutting him loose, the archdiocese loses all control over him," the priest said. "Clearly this is still a man who hasn't recovered from his sickness. He thinks that the car is his toy."
Gatzak said the potential loss of control is always a concern for the diocese when it moves to laicize a priest.
"Part of the thinking is don't laicize because then the archdiocese can't keep track of the priest," he said.
Gatzak said he does not know if Mansell has begun the laicization process with Foley. It requires a formal process and permission from the Vatican.
The archdiocese has paid out at least $2 million already to settle complaints and lawsuits against Foley. Three lawsuits are pending.
State police and the Department of Motor Vehicles also are investigating whether Foley forged documents in 2000 when he bought and registered the Crown Victoria under the name of the New England Association of Fire Chiefs.
Officials with the association said they had no knowledge of the purchase.
Contact Elizabeth Hamilton at email@example.com.
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