|Norwich Diocese Agrees to Settlement of $170,000 for Sexual Abuse by Priest
Terms Announced at Stonington Church of 34-Year-Old Case
By Joe Wojtas
October 29, 2007
Stonington — In a letter read during morning services at St. Michael's Church Sunday, Bishop Michael Cote announced that the Diocese of Norwich has agreed to a $170,000 settlement with a Pawcatuck man who charged he was molested by a priest at the church more than 30 years ago.
James Fish, 47, had filed a lawsuit against the diocese, church and the Rev. Paul Hebert alleging that Hebert sexually assaulted him on several occasions in the church rectory in 1973 and 1974, when he was in the seventh grade.
The diocese and its insurance company have now paid $4.6 million to settle lawsuits filed by people who say they were sexually abused by priests who worked in the diocese. Many of those settlements occurred over the past year. Two more lawsuits are pending.
In his letter, Cote said the diocese's insurance company would pay all of the $170,000.
"Father Hebert has denied the allegations, while Mr. Fish has affirmed their truthfulness. Both of them are our brothers in Christ, deserving of our care and concern. Let us keep them both in our prayers," wrote Cote.
Cote added that the diocese "remains committed to assuring safe environments for all of our children."
The St. Michael's church bulletin on Sunday included a copy of Cote's letter, information about the diocese's Safe Environments program to protect children, the procedure to report sexual abuse in the diocese and a list of 10 things Catholics can do to create a safe environment in their church and school.
Cote also urged Catholics to contact their pastor "to learn more about what we can all do to protect God's children."
After reading Cote's letter, St. Michael's pastor, the Rev. Dennis Perkins, said he particularly wanted to point out that none of the settlement money would be paid by St. Michael's Church.
He told his congregation there is no doubt the case has been very painful for those involved and particularly disturbing for many of the parishioners at St. Michael's.
He asked them "to join Cote and pray for both Jim Fish and for Father Hebert."
It was Fish's mother who reported the allegations to Perkins in 2003, when Fish revealed them to her for the first time.
After the 11 a.m. Mass was over, Perkins said he had not received any other complaints about Hebert since Fish's allegations came to light. He said no parishioners had approached to discuss the settlement since it was first reported last week. At that time, the diocese said it wanted to wait until Sunday to announce the amount of the settlement.
Fish's suit had charged that the diocese had been warned that Hebert posed a threat to children but ignored those warnings and allowed the abuse of Fish to continue after it became aware of it. It also charged the diocese disregarded complaints that Hebert sexually exploited minors for many years. The suit maintained that Fish continues to suffer from a host of psychological and emotional problems because of the abuse by Hebert. The diocese settled the suit as it was nearing trial in New London Superior Court.
Hebert was a diocesan priest from 1959 until 2004, when he was removed following Fish's complaint. He served at St. Michael's from 1971 to 1981, when he was assigned to the Most Holy Trinity Church in Pomfret. He remained there until Cote placed him on a leave of absence when the allegations came to light. Hebert, who also served at parishes in Old Saybrook, Montville and Clinton, denied the allegations through the diocese in 2004.
The diocese has said Hebert is now retired and not serving in any parish but it will not reveal where he is living, citing his privacy.
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