|Lawsuit Accuses Ex-Priest of Abuse
Rev. Curry of Groton, Who Died in 1986, Allegedly Raped Young Girl
By Joe Wojtas
February 24, 2008
Groton — One day in 1966, 8-year-old "Mary Doe" went to confession at St. Mary's Church where the Rev. James Curry told her that she should later speak to him in private.
Doe, who helped her mother clean the church and rectory, went to several private counseling sessions with the 42-year-old priest. During those sessions, Curry prayed with the girl while massaging her shoulders, stroking her hair and kissing her forehead. He told her she was special and to "trust in the Lord."
Those details come from a lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Norwich last week in New London Superior Court. During the third or fourth such session, according to the suit, Curry had the girl drink the sacramental wine used at Mass before they engaged in oral sex, and he raped her. That pattern continued on a regular basis for the next eight years and involved hundreds of sexual assaults, according to attorneys for the now 49-year-old woman.
After the rapes, the lawsuit states, Curry would tell the girl to ask God to forgive the sin she had just committed and "for putting Father Curry to the temptation."
She would say this out loud and then Curry would have her recite with him the Act of Contrition, a Catholic prayer for forgiveness. He would then dole out a penance — an action signifying that the person is sorry for sinning and resolves not to repeat the sin. Usually, he required her to recite the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary.
Curry, who died in 1986, then would threaten the girl that if word got out about the sexual assaults, she and her mother would not only be "drummed" out of the church but would burn in hell for eternity.
"As long as you stay on the path you won't burn in hell," he allegedly told her.
The lawsuit, which a judge has allowed the woman to file under the pseudonym of "Mary Doe," states that Curry sexually assaulted the girl in the church sacristy and rectory on Groton Long Point Road Hill Road, in the church center and in his car.
One of the woman's attorneys, Thomas McNamara of New Haven, has represented a number of people who say they were abused by priests.
He said priests who abuse children are all "despicable characters" but Curry "is one of the more diabolical and sociopathic ones that I've seen."
The lawsuit is the latest filed against the Norwich diocese involving the sexual abuse of children and teenagers by its priests. Two other suits are pending. So far, the diocese says, it and its insurance company have paid $4.6 million to the alleged victims.
Diocesan spokesman Michael Strammiello said he could confirm that a lawsuit has been filed against the diocese by a Mary Doe who alleged she was abused by Curry more than 35 years ago.
"We're certainly not in a position to comment on any of the allegations at this early stage," he said.
Gary Kaisen, the diocese's attorney in the case, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Curry was born in Hartford and ordained in 1949 in his hometown. He served at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Norwich as well as at churches in Fairfield and Willimantic before he became the founding pastor of St. Mary's in 1964.
He served there for 17 years until he was accused of sexually assaulting the 11-year-old daughter of his housekeeper during an eight-month period between 1980 and 1981.
Mary Doe's lawsuit says she was raised in a devout Catholic family that attended St. Mary's Church. The girl and her mother helped out with church bazaars and spaghetti dinners and decorated the church.
The girl was baptized and confirmed in the parish church in the 1960s and also received the sacraments of Holy Communion and penance or confession there. It was Curry who heard those confessions. She attended religious education classes through the eighth or ninth grade.
In those classes, the suit states, the girl was taught to believe that a priest should be obeyed without question because he not only did God's work on Earth but never sinned. Because of this, she developed a special trust in Curry.
"Anyone brought up Catholic in those days can certainly understand the power these priests had back then," McNamara said.
In those early counseling sessions, the suit says the priest began to groom the girl.
After the alleged rapes, the suit says Curry told the girl he was "the master" and she was one of the sheep in his flock, "the chosen one." The suit states this caused the girl to believe the sexual acts were her fault and that she had sinned by tempting Curry and having sex with him. She believed his threats that she and her mother would "suffer eternal damnation in the fires of hell" if she told anyone about the abuse.
"He threatened and coerced her into keeping her mouth shut with that promise of eternal damnation if she didn't. It was a promise to be kept," McNamara said.
The suit charges that the diocese knew of other sexual abuse complaints involving Curry, which it had received prior to and during the alleged abuse of Mary Doe.
It states the diocese failed to investigate the allegations and warn parishioners that Curry posed a threat to children, and that this allowed the abuse to continue and prevented the girl from getting the counseling she needed.
As an adult, Mary Doe never told anyone about the alleged abuse until March 2007, when she met with her other attorney, James Hall of Pawcatuck. Up until then she did not think she could file a lawsuit against Curry, according to her suit.
State law allows victims of alleged sexual abuse to file lawsuits up until 30 years after they reach the age of majority, which gives them to age 48. The woman is now 49.
McNamara and Hall are arguing that the 30-year limit should not begin at 18 in this case because Curry's intimidation of the alleged victim prevented her from discovering that she could file a lawsuit. They argue that the priest, as an employee of the diocese, engaged in "fraudulent concealment" by threatening her with consequences if she told anyone.
Among its many allegations, the suit charges that the diocese failed to report as required by law its reasonable suspicions that Curry had abused minors; failed to develop a policy that required priests to report alleged sexual misconduct by other priests; and did not have rules that prohibited priests from having children alone in their private rooms.
It says the diocese failed to supervise Curry; knew or should have known he had a proclivity to sexually abuse minors; and chose not to address the sexually abusive conduct of its priests, which allowed Curry to sexually assault the girl and others for years.
McNamara said the woman still has serious emotional distress, but he and Hall declined to discuss personal details about her life today. The suit states she has suffered "serious and debilitating psychological injuries and spiritual damage."
A hearing has been scheduled for March 24 if the diocese chooses to argue that Mary Doe should not be able to continue to use the pseudonym as the case moves forward.
In his motion, McNamara said the names of sexual abuse victims in criminal cases are not released and that state courts have allowed alleged victims of sexual abuse to proceed anonymously in civil cases as well because of the embarrassment, shame and psychological trauma. He said that without use of a pseudonym, many victims would not bring cases forward.
"The opportunity for victims to file suing fictitious names has undoubtedly been a significant element in bringing this serious issue to the forefront of public awareness, providing victims with the compensation they deserve, and serving as a powerful force to compel change in the institutional Catholic Church," he wrote.
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