A Bishop in Denial Left a Legacy of Pain
Diocese and Victims Still Pay Heavy Price for Reilly's Sheltering of Abusive Priests
May 13, 2007
When he was the bishop of the Diocese of Norwich from 1975 to 1994, his warm personality and quick wit endeared him to the region's Catholics.
At the annual Blessing of the Fleet in Stonington, people pressed up against him as he walked from St. Mary Church to the fishing docks. He sang "Danny Boy" at the St. Patrick's Day celebration in Norwich.
And when he was transferred in 1994 to the Worcester, Mass., diocese, more than 1,200 Catholics packed St. Patrick Cathedral in Norwich for his final Mass. Afterwards, they stood in a long line to hug him and wish him well.
That was the Bishop Daniel P. Reilly most people knew.
But at the same time, he transferred priests suspected of molesting children, ignoring warnings that they posed a danger. He failed to report what he knew to police and fought the release of documents sought in lawsuits and attempts to depose him. On the advice of attorneys, he refused to answer questions put to him during a deposition and said he could not recall conversations and letters about accused priests until he was shown documentation. He has admitted the diocese maintained a secret archive in which he placed information about priests accused of sexual misconduct.
In one case, he tried to stop a woman from starting a Web site devoted to those who claimed to have been molested by priests.
The Diocese of Norwich has now fielded priest-abuse claims, most of which involve Reilly, that have caused it to pay out about $4.4 million in settlements — more than $1 million of which has come from the weekly donations the region's Catholics make to their churches.
Two weeks ago, the diocese agreed to pay $300,000 to Joshua Hethcote of Coventry, who said he was molested by the Rev. Eugene Orteneau at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Storrs in 1992.
The diocese settled the case even though it has said it and Reilly were not aware of the allegations until Hethcote filed his lawsuit in 2005. The Society of Jesus, the order of priests to which Orteneau belonged, paid Hethcote an additional $900,000.
Three more lawsuits are pending against the diocese.
Reilly, now 79, retired in 2004 and lives in the rectory across the street from St. Paul's Cathedral in Worcester. He declined repeated interview requests that explained the nature of this story. Contacted Monday, Reilly said he would defer to the advice of the diocese not to comment.
In a sworn affidavit in the Hethcote case that he signed Nov. 9, 2006, Reilly said that during his entire time as bishop of Norwich, neither he, the diocese nor its churches "ever engage or participate in any plan or policy or conspiracy of concealing or aiding in the concealing of any criminal conduct or in the concealing of any alleged child-abuse activities of any person."
Many people would disagree with that statement.
"I have had dinners with him. I've drunk with him and I've raised money with him," said Mary Jean of Leominster, Mass., who said her son escaped a molestation attempt by a priest Reilly transferred to her church. "He's a decent guy," she said of Reilly, "but when it comes to this issue, he always put the almighty church before the people. I don't think he's ever appreciated the damage this does to families. It destroys lives."
Michael Nelligan, who received a $2.1 million settlement from the diocese after charging he was molested by a priest Reilly brought to the diocese, is more harsh in his assessment.
"This guy should be in jail along with the rest of the bishops of that period," he said.
Nelligan's attorney, Robert I. Reardon Jr. of New London, said some of Reilly's actions were "classic transfers" by the Catholic Church, cases in which a bishop, after receiving complaints about a priest, reassigned that priest without warning anyone at the new parish, not even the other priests there.
"He tended to turn a blind eye in hopes things really were not what they appeared to be," Reardon said. "The hierarchy of the church refused to believe this was a problem even though they were warned. Instead, they were more concerned about keeping the priests they had because of the shortage (of priests).
"It's remarkable how similarly these priests are handled no matter where you go in the country," he said.
Joseph Sweeney, the Norwich diocese's attorney, disagrees.
"If you make a careful analysis, there was never a situation in which Bishop Reilly failed to report things he had a good-faith reason to believe," he said. "He certainly didn't condone this stuff. When given the appropriate information, he acted decisively."
While many dioceses around the country have been rocked by allegations of priests having abused large numbers of children, Sweeney said that has not been the case in the Norwich diocese.
"From what I know about the cases around the country, the Norwich diocese is clean," he said.
The following accounts of priest-abuse cases involving Reilly and the Norwich diocese have been culled from lawsuits, depositions and other court documents, media reports, interviews with attorneys and others involved in complaints, and bishopaccountability.org, an Internet-based clearinghouse that tracks allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
• Reilly allowed the Rev. Bruno Primavera to come to the diocese in 1978 despite a letter from church officials in Toronto warning Reilly that Primavera tended to seek out the companionship of teenage boys on a one-to-one basis and that he had been seeing a psychiatrist about the issue.
Reilly said phone calls were made to Toronto in which the diocese "found out what this was about."
Three members of the five-member diocesan committee in Norwich that reviews potential priests recommended to Reilly that he not allow Primavera to work in the diocese.
Nevertheless, Reilly assigned Primavera to a church in Westbrook, where he allegedly molested Nelligan, then a 15-year-old altar boy, on a number of occasions. After allegations in 1979 in Westbrook of theft and homosexuality and Primavera's denial that he had had any inappropriate contact with young boys, Reilly transferred Primavera to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in New London.
There, Primavera allegedly molested a 15-year-old boy named Michael Long in the rectory. Reilly did not call police about the New London case even after Long's mother complained to the church's pastor that her son had told her "something bad" happened with the priest. The pastor in turn alerted Reilly. The day before Mrs. Long's complaint in February 1980, Waterford police had told Reilly they had found Primavera in a "compromising position" with teenage boys in a car.
After Primavera was in New London for just a few months, Reilly sent the priest back to Toronto for "less than satisfactory performance." While he did not call Toronto with details of what occurred, he has said he thought another diocesan official did.
The diocese assured Mrs. Long that Primavera was being thrown out of the priesthood. Instead, the priest went back to Canada, where he received psychological treatment at the Southdown Treatment Center. He later went on to serve at several other parishes before he was arrested for molesting boys at a military school in New Mexico in 1990 and was sentenced to four years in prison.
Reardon said the Norwich diocese fought his attempts to get documents about Primavera, who died in 2006, from the Toronto diocese and to depose church officials there. The Norwich diocese paid Nelligan and Long $2 million and $1.1 million, respectively, two of the largest individual settlements in the U.S. priest-abuse scandal.
The Most Rev. Michael Cote, the current bishop of Norwich, not Reilly, sent Mrs. Long a written apology on behalf of the diocese last fall. It apologizes for Primavera's actions but not those of Reilly.
• In the mid-1990s, Reilly watched priest Richard Buongirno give a $40,000 check to a young man who claimed the priest had sexually abused him in the 1970s when he was between 16 and 19. The incidents occurred before Buongirno became a priest in 1984. Reilly sent Buongirno for treatment at the Institute of Living, a psychiatric facility in Hartford, which the diocese said then cleared Buongirno to return.
Reilly assigned Buongirno to churches in Cromwell and Middletown, where pastors later said they saw Buongirno bring boys into his private room. The transfers took place even though the young man who was molested said that Monsignor Thomas Bride assured him the diocese would never allow Buongirno to be involved with children in the future.
A few years earlier, a 9-year-old boy said Buongirno repeatedly molested him while assigned to St. Matthias Church in East Lyme, but the diocese said an investigation by the state Department of Children and Families failed to substantiate the allegation. The diocese never told the Institute of Living about that allegation.
The boy later said that Buongirno repeatedly sexually assaulted him again when he was a 16-year-old student at Xavier High School in Middletown. Court testimony showed internal memos suggested the diocese was concerned about Buongirno's mental state as far back as 1982.
The diocese and Buongirno each paid the victim $350,000 in 2003. Buongirno, who lives in Wallingford, was removed from the ministry in 1998. He did not respond to requests for an interview.
• Reilly transferred the Rev. Thomas Shea, now deceased, who was accused of molesting at least 16 girls in 11 parishes, to St. Joseph's Church in New London in 1976, with orders that Shea be kept away from children in the parish school. Girls at St. Joseph's said Shea liked to take photos of them in their bathing suits.
The transfer came after Shea was placed on a two-year sick leave prompted by complaints from parents in a Higganum church that Shea was kissing their 8- and 10-year-old daughters. Two previous bishops had also transferred Shea from parish to parish and had placed him on sick leave after complaints.
In 1979, Reilly transferred Shea to St. John Church in Norwich, where two girls, ages 11 and 13, complained about Shea. In 1982, Reilly sent Shea to St. John the Apostle Church and The Daughters of the Holy Ghost School in Plainfield. The next year, a woman came forward who said that as a child Shea had made her masturbate him. Reilly removed Shea and sent him for treatment but never went to police.
A lawsuit by one of Shea's alleged victims is now pending in New London Superior Court. It charges that Reilly received numerous psychological and medical reports about Shea while Reilly was bishop as well as correspondence about Shea from an unnamed bishop.
• Reilly relieved the Rev. Thomas Doyle of his duties in 1992 but did not go to police when twin brothers Mathew and Mark Nutt told him that Doyle had shown them pornographic movies and repeatedly sexually assaulted them at a church in Rockville beginning in 1977 when they were 12.
The diocese was later exonerated, but the Marianist order, to which Doyle belonged, paid an undisclosed settlement. The Marianists said that Doyle died in March.
• Reilly did not go to police after former altar boy Thomas Deary of Putnam told him that the Rev. Bernard Bissonnette had molested him in 1962. Reilly has said he referred Deary to a counselor and met with him several times.
Deary committed suicide in 1991, and Reilly later told Deary's brother that he did not know where Bissonnette was living, even though the diocese was sending him monthly checks at the time. Deary's brother hired a private investigator who found Bissonnette living with a family in New Mexico.
Bissonnette, who was ordained in 1958, has been accused of molesting children in New Mexico and in several other states during his 38 years as a priest, the first five of which were spent in the Norwich diocese.
In a lawsuit against the diocese, a Wethersfield man identified only by the pseudonym David Doe accused Bissonnette of repeatedly sexually assaulting him from 1960 to 1962 and forcing him to perform sex acts on other children. The suit, pending in Hartford Superior Court, charges the diocese disregarded many complaints that Bissonnette was molesting children.
In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI defrocked Bissonnette after receiving a petition from Cote. Bissonnette, believed to be living in New Mexico, could not be located.
In the recently settled Hethcote case, the lawsuit alleged that Reilly, the diocese and the Storrs church to which Orteneau was assigned knew or should have known about the abuse, failed to report it to authorities and disregarded many complaints about Orteneau. Sweeney had maintained that the first time the diocese and Reilly became aware of the allegations was when Hethcote filed his lawsuit in 2005. But two weeks ago, he said 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 his Nov. 6, 2006, affidavit, Reilly said that at no time before Dec. 8, 1994, when he left the Norwich diocese to become bishop in Worcester, did he or the diocese ever receive a complaint that indicated Orteneau was unfit to be a priest. 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 alleged abuse of Hethcote to police when it became aware of it through the lawsuit.
Carolyn Linsey, the Fairfield lawyer representing the Jesuits in the case, said Orteneau has not been involved in active ministry since 1994, when he left the Storrs church, and that he was dismissed from the Jesuit order in 2003 because of "other issues." While she said Orteneau is believed to be alive, the Jesuits do not know where he is now.
It is unclear exactly what Reilly knew about the Rev. Paul Hebert, who has been sued by a Pawcatuck man who alleges the priest molested him at St. Michael Church in Pawcatuck in 1973 when he was 13.
"The church has failed to disclose materials that would allow me to comment on that," said Pawcatuck attorney James Hall, who represents James Fish.
The suit also says there is a 71/2-year span during which there are no documents in Hebert's file.
Court documents show a parishioner told the diocese in 2004 that she and her husband witnessed "unsettling" events concerning priests and boys at St. Michael's but did not tell anyone at the time. She said she had talked to the boys since but believe they will not come forward because it would be devastating for their parents, who do not know what occurred.
The suit says the diocese disregarded many complaints that Hebert was sexually exploiting minors in the parish for many years. Hebert was a diocesan priest from 1959 — many years before Reilly's arrival — until 2004, at which time he was removed when Fish's complaint was made public.
Hebert, who served at parishes in Old Saybrook, Pawcatuck, Montville, Clinton and Pomfret, denied the allegations at the time. The Branford law firm of Milano & Wanat, which represents the diocese, did not return phone calls seeking comment. The South Windsor nursing home where Hebert was living when the suit was filed in 2005 said no one with Hebert's name lives there now.
Before he came to Norwich, Reilly worked for 21 years as a high-ranking church official in the Providence diocese, where he has been named as a defendant in numerous lawsuits, some of which accused him of participating in the transfer of abusive priests.
One of those transfers involved the Rev. James Silva, whom court documents say from 1967 to 1969 allegedly molested at least five boys at two parishes and that one pastor was aware of the abuse. In 1971, Reilly appointed Silva as regional director of the Catholic Youth Organization, where he replaced another priest who had been accused and was later convicted of child molestation.
The lawsuit says that over the next 20 years, Silva molested at least 17 more boys in various Rhode Island parishes. He was eventually arrested and pleaded guilty to molesting one boy in 1994.
Another allegation against Reilly involved the late Rev. Robert Marcantonio, who was sued by an altar boy in Iowa as well as one in Cranston, R.I., who said the priest abused him. The Iowa accuser said Reilly was informed by a Providence psychiatrist in 1970 that Marcantonio had been involved in homosexual activity with up to 15 boys ages 12 to 14 and that there was a poor prognosis for a cure.
Reilly then was involved in allowing Marcantonio to enroll at Iowa State University and to undergo psychotherapy. A year later, Reilly sent a letter to a priest in Iowa thanking him for the hospitality he showed Marcantonio, who returned to Rhode Island in 1975 and was accused of molesting more boys.
During a 1997 deposition, Reilly's attorney repeatedly objected to what seemed to be clearly worded questions and barred Reilly from answering many questions, including whether Reilly received complaints about Marcantonio's sexual conduct or about allegations that he had molested between 10 and 15 boys in Cranston, R.I. Reilly also could not recall writing a letter to church officials in Iowa about the priest.
The Providence diocese has since agreed to pay $14 million to 40 people who said they were molested by Providence diocesan priests, according to Carl Deluca, a Warwick, R.I., attorney who represented many of the victims.
As bishop of Worcester, Reilly was also accused of knowingly transferring a sexually abusive priest. In one case, according to court records, Reilly agreed to a $300,000 settlement with a 19-year-old man who said the Rev. Peter Inzerillo sexually assaulted him in 1985 and 1986 when he went to Inzerillo for counseling because he had been sexually assaulted by another priest. Reilly transferred Inzerillo to a church in Leominster, Mass., in 2000. There, parents forced Reilly to remove Inzerillo two years later after they said the priest had tried to molest between eight and 10 boys and gave a graphic talk about sexual arousal to boys and girls on a retreat.
Inzerillo could not be located.
Court records show that some priests and sometimes parishioners in the Norwich diocese were aware of possible sexual abuse by priests but did not report what they knew to police.
Overall, the diocese says it has spent nearly $4.4 million to settle priest-abuse cases. Of that, the diocese's insurance company, the Catholic Mutual Relief Society of Omaha, Neb., paid $3,012,234 while the diocese paid $1,064,822. The diocese has said most of the recent $300,000 payment to Hethcote was covered by the insurance company, but would not say exactly how much.
It is impossible to corroborate the figures because the diocese refuses to detail all of the settlements it has made over the years, citing confidentiality agreements with victims.
What is certain is that a large portion of the money to pay the victims has come from Catholics in eastern Connecticut who contribute each Sunday to parish churches.
Cote, the current Norwich bishop, stressed in a February letter to all churches in the diocese that none of the settlement money comes from contributions made to such organizations as the annual Bishops Appeal, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities. He said an insurance reserve fund has been established to cover deductible and uninsured items and that the money spent from the fund has been "minimal."
Sweeney, the diocese's attorney, said that each parish in the diocese pays a percentage of the diocese's annual insurance coverage. A portion of each payment goes to the premium while the rest goes into the reserve account. Sweeney likened the bill to the other bills each church has to pay. The money to pay a parish's bills comes from the weekly contributions from parishioners. In addition, Cote said the diocese has added money from "unexpected and undesignated gifts" to the reserve fund.
Sweeney declined to say how much money is now in the reserve fund. He said the impact of the settlements on the diocese's insurance rates is unclear but that the insurance company pays the diocese's legal fees.
The diocese says that 20 of its priests have been accused of sexually abusing children. Sweeney said the diocese will not identify the priests or say how many complaints were filed against each of them because of confidentiality and personnel reasons. He said the diocese is not legally permitted to release such information from its personnel files without releases from the priests, some of whom are dead. Sweeney said he did not know if the diocese asked any of the priests to sign release forms.
Sweeney also said the diocese will not release the list of settlements it has made over the years because of confidentiality agreements.
"We have to respect those agreements," he said.
Sweeney also said that divulging all the details of the cases now would serve no purpose. While Reardon said he was willing to release Reilly's deposition in the Primavera case, Sweeney would not agree to the release. Portions of the deposition are on file in two Connecticut courthouses.
Sweeney vehemently defends Reilly's actions, saying Reilly always took quick and decisive action based on the information he had at the time.
Sweeney said that in some cases Reilly did not go to police with complaints because he understood the statute of limitations on the prosecution of cases had expired. In other cases, he said, Reilly only became aware of the allegations when a lawsuit was filed years later, which he said was the case with Nelligan's accusations against Primavera, Joshua Hethcote's allegations against Orteneau and those by former altar boy Michael Hayes, who said the Rev. Raymond Jean sexually assaulted him at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Ledyard in 1985. The diocese paid Hayes a $275,000 settlement.
Sweeney said many of the priests accused in the diocese were not diocesan priests but were visiting from religious orders and came highly recommended. In some cases, he said, judges have removed the diocese as a defendant because it was not responsible for, or aware of, what was occurring. In some cases, the diocese has argued, it was not responsible for alleged abuse because the priests were acting outside their officially sanctioned duties.
Sweeney said Reilly ordered Primavera to leave even before a mother of one of the victims reported him to St. Mary Church in New London. Reilly, at that point, had already received the report from Waterford police that Primavera had been found in a compromising position with teenage boys.
"He felt the simple solution was to get him on the road. He was fed up and got rid of him immediately," Sweeney said of Reilly. "The bishop felt we were not going to open an investigation and get involved in collateral issues."
Asked why Reilly did not go to New London police, Sweeney said the complaint by the mother was vague. "What's 'something bad?' Is someone giving him alcohol? Anything could possibly be bad," he said.
Sweeney said Reilly also acted in good faith in the case involving Buongirno. He said a psychological exam of the priest before he was ordained found he was fit to be a priest and that a state Department of Children and Families investigation did not substantiate the allegations of the 9-year-old boy. He said the Institute of Living, which is known for its treatment of sexually abusive priests, told Reilly it did not expect further problems with the priest. The diocese, however, did not tell the Institute about the DCF investigation, according to court records.
In the case of Doyle and the Nutt brothers, Sweeney said a judge removed the diocese as a defendant in the case because it was not responsible for the priest's actions.
With Shea, who is accused of molesting numerous young girls, Sweeney said there have been complaints about Shea being "socially awkward" and hugging and kissing women in public. But Sweeney said the diocese viewed it as socially inappropriate "but not sexually predatory."
Court records show that Reilly opened the Domus Vitae Center in Willimantic, which provided psychological counseling for priests, including those accused of sexual abuse.
Some of the victims who have won settlements from the diocese did not respond to requests to be interviewed.
Mary Jean, the founder of the Worcester Voice, which supports the victims of priest abuse in the Worcester diocese, said in an interview that she told Reilly that Inzerillo tried to molest her son and others in the sacristy of the church and that the priest had also taken the boys on a trip during which he spoke to them about sex and masturbation.
"I had a meeting with Bishop Reilly over this and he didn't see the significance of it," she said. "I asked him how a man of God could allow this to happen."
When she decided to start a Web site for her group in 2002, she said Reilly had a diocesan attorney and police try to stop her, alleging it was slander.
"He tried to influence everyone he could," she said.
Jean said she had been active in her church and helped raise $1 million for the local Catholic high school. Despite that, she said she and others in her parish had to hire an attorney to force Reilly to get rid of Inzerillo.
"It destroyed my faith," she said. "It destroyed my whole family's faith. We don't go to church anymore."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.