|Former Altar Boy Sues Archdiocese over Alleged Abuse
By Abbe Smith
New Haven Register
August 2, 2007
Guilford — A former altar boy at St. George Catholic Church is suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford and Daniel McSheffery, claiming the priest sexually abused him when he was a young boy.
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in New Haven on July 18, is the most recent in a string of sex-abuse claims against McSheffery, a popular and charismatic priest who served in several churches in Connecticut since the 1960s.
According to court documents, McSheffery is accused of sexually abusing the plaintiff, identified in court papers only as Michael Doe to protect his identity, when Doe served as an altar boy at the church in 1974. He was 11 years old. During one of the last alleged abuse episodes, Doe ran out of the sacristy, a room in the church used to prepare for Mass, and was later dismissed as an altar boy by McSheffery.
The episode "gave the plaintiff the message that he was no longer welcome in the Catholic Church if he did not allow himself to be sexually abused by Daniel McSheffery," the lawsuit states.
Does's attorney, Thomas M. McNamara of New Haven, declined to name an amount being sought in the lawsuit, instead saying Doe is seeking "the value of what McSheffrey and the diocese took from him that he'll never be able to regain. We'll let a jury decide what that is."
The lawsuit comes in the wake of a $660 million settlement reached last month between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more than 500 people claiming to have been abused by priests. In 2005, the Hartford Archdiocese reached a $22 million settlement with 43 alleged clergy sex abuse victims. That settlement stemmed from abuse claims against 14 priests, including McSheffery.
McSheffery, now in his mid-70s, has been on administrative leave since 2002, when the first abuse allegations against him arose, sending shockwaves through the local Catholic community. He also served in churches in North Branford and Hartford and now resides in Florida.
The latest lawsuit against him claims Doe suffered "serious and debilitating emotional injuries" requiring psychological help as well as spiritual damage as Doe decided to leave the Catholic Church.
McNamara characterized his client's abuse as "a variety of despicable acts" but declined to elaborate. He said his client's abuse did not include intercourse or oral sex.
Doe, now in his 40s, can legally file the civil suit because of a state law passed in 2002 that extended the statute of limitations so that victims of child sexual abuse can file suits until they are 48.
Beth McCabe, a co-leader at the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said many victims have repressed memories and don't confront the abuse until they are older.
"Most victims of child sex abuse don't come to terms with their abuse until they are in their 20s or 30s or 40s," she said.
McCabe advocates for Connecticut to abolish all statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse cases.
She vehemently disagrees with critics who suggest that a number of sex-based lawsuits against priests are based on false memories or greed.
New Haven attorney Hugh Keefe, who is representing McSheffery, had no comment on the most recent lawsuit, but emphasized that his client has not been convicted of any crime.
"Father McSheffery has not been found guilty either civilly or criminally in any court anywhere," he said Wednesday.
The Rev. John Gatzak, director of communication for the Archdiocese of Hartford, said he had no comment specifically about the most recent lawsuit, but said such allegations "cause us to think of the pain on the part of the victims and to redouble the church's efforts to make sure such abuse never occurs again."
Gatzak said the Catholic Church has taken steps in recent years to protect children and young people from abuse.
For example, he said priests, seminarians and Catholic school teachers go through background checks.
"By all means, one of the safest places for children should be their parish community," Gatzak said.
Abbe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 789-5615.
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