|Molestation Lawsuit Will Cost Diocese
Norwich Church Officials Agree to Pay Coventry Man $300,000
By Joe Wojtas
The Day [Norwich CT]
May 3, 2007
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich has agreed to pay one quarter of a $1.2 million settlement to a Coventry man who claimed the Rev. Eugene Orteneau repeatedly molested him at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Storrs when he was about 16.
Joseph Sweeney, the attorney for the diocese, said Wednesday that the diocese, which was sued along with the church and former Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, will pay Joshua Hethcote $300,000 while The Society of Jesus, the order of priests to which Orteneau belonged, will pay $900,000.
In the past eight months, the diocese has paid three men, all represented by New London attorney Robert Reardon, a total of $3.4 million to settle their lawsuits against the Norwich diocese. The suits alleged that priests working in the diocese sexually assaulted them as boys.
Three more lawsuits that allege priests in the diocese sexually abused children are pending.
In his 2005 suit, Hethcote said he was a member of the St. Thomas Aquinas youth group in 1992 when Orteneau sexually assaulted him on various occasions. It is unknown where Orteneau, who Sweeney said has been dismissed as a priest, is now living.
The suit, which was scheduled to go to trial May 7 in Middletown Superior Court, alleged that Reilly, the diocese and the church knew or should have known about the abuse and failed to report it to authorities. It also alleged that the diocese disregarded many complaints about Orteneau and then failed to investigate him, or concealed the results of the investigation and allowed him to continue molesting Hethcote.
The suit said Hethcote continues to suffer from physical injuries, serious mental illness and emotional problems such as depression, and has permanent psychological scarring.
Sweeney has maintained that the first time the diocese and Reilly became aware of the allegations was when Hethcote filed his lawsuit in 2005. He said Wednesday, however, that in the summer of 2003, Hethcote's sister filed a complaint with the diocese that Orteneau had molested two other boys. The complaint did not mention her brother.
In an affidavit dated Nov. 6, 2006, Reilly said that at no time before Dec. 8, 1994, when he left the Norwich diocese to become bishop in Worcester, Mass., did he or the diocese ever receive a complaint that indicated Orteneau was unfit to be a priest. He also said that at no time did he engage in concealing any criminal conduct or the alleged abuse of children.
Sweeney said the diocese reported the complaint by Hethcote's sister to the Jesuits as well as to the state Department of Children and Families. He said he did not know if the diocese also went to police with the complaint.
Sweeney said he did not know if the diocese reported the abuse of Hethcote to police when it became aware of it through the lawsuit. Orteneau left the church in June 1994, according to Sweeney.
Reardon called what happened to Hethcote "a horrible ordeal," but said the settlement was a fair one.
When the suit was first filed, Hethcote and Reardon believed the 55-year-old Orteneau was dead, but learned otherwise. Reardon said Hethcote had hoped to confront Orteneau when he learned he was still alive.
Reardon said the litigation process was made more difficult because of the diocese's lack of cooperation. He said that during two mediation sessions, the diocese made no honest effort to resolve the case.
While the Jesuits are paying most of the $1.2 million, Reardon said, "The settlement breakdown shouldn't be interpreted as an indication of who was more at fault, but (rather) who was more willing to end this matter."
The Jesuits' attorney, Carolyn Linsey, could not be reached to comment Wednesday night.
Sweeney said the diocese decided to pay Hethcote a "nuisance value settlement" so it could avoid the time, effort and expense of going to trial. He said there was a good chance a judge would have removed the diocese, the church and Reilly as defendants in the suit, especially since they had relied on the Jesuits' recommendation of Orteneau as an "excellent addition to your team."
"The diocese had a likelihood of exoneration but the Jesuits wanted to settle the case and asked for a contribution from us," Sweeney said.
Sweeney said most of the $300,000 payment the diocese will make to Hethcote will be covered by an insurance policy. He said a small portion will come from the diocese's insurance reserve fund, which pays for losses not covered by insurance. Each church in the diocese contributes to the reserve fund.
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