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  Jury Clears Priest of All Sex Charges

By Jonathan Shugarts
Republican-American
January 17, 2009

http://www.rep-am.com/News/392262.txt

Accusations had rocked Naugatuck

WATERBURY The Rev. Robert J. Grant stood before a wooden table in Waterbury Superior Court on Friday, his shoulders sagging slightly in relief as he listened to the words he had waited a year and half to hear "not guilty."

Grant, a 65-year-old Roman Catholic priest, was cleared of all charges, including second-degree sexual assault. A priest for St. Mary's and St. Hedwig's churches in Naugatuck since 2005, he had been charged with sexual assault after a teenage boy said he performed oral sex on Grant in 2006.

The jury deliberated for a few hours on Thursday and had a decision by late Friday morning. Grant, wearing a white shirt without his priest's collar, clasped his hands in front of him as he awaited the verdict.

In addition to second-degree sexual assault, he also faced charges of providing a minor with alcohol and risk of injury to a child. He was acquitted on all 10 felony counts, and hugged his attorney, William St. John, after the verdict was read.

He shook hands with a judicial marshal and a court clerk before walking into a courthouse hallway to meet with his supporters, who have packed the courtroom during nearly every day of his trial.

"Ask anybody who prayed for me to give gratitude to the Lord," he said after the verdict.

The teen and his father worked at St. Mary's Church, doing janitorial duties. The teen, who is now 18, said he performed oral sex on Grant in the back room of the church when he was 15. The boy, known as "C.R." in court proceedings, said Grant gave him wine from Dixie cups and asked him for back massages, which eventually led to oral sex.

In closing arguments, state prosecutor Catherine B. Austin reminded the jury that the boy testified for three hours about his encounters with Grant, saying he felt ashamed and embarrassed.

St. John introduced the idea that the teen and his father were motivated by money. The boy's father is suing the church, and the boy testified that he intended to sue.

St. John also said the teen was forced to do his father's bidding.

"No one has ever said they've seen C.R. with Father Grant," St. John said.

The teen's father, known as "H.R." in court proceedings, has filed a lawsuit against the church for breach of contract. That suit claims Grant wrongfully terminated H.R. after he refused to remove asbestos from a set of basement pipes. H.R. was fired on March 27, 2007; about three months later he contacted police, which led to Grant's arrest on charges of sexual assault.

Grant's supporters have packed the courtroom nearly every day of his trial, fingering rosary beads, shaking their heads when they disagreed with testimony or offering words in support of the embattled priest. Grant faced up to 20 years in prison if he had been convicted.

His supporters were overjoyed with the verdict, as was Grant, who thanked them with hugs for their support.

"I knew this was going to happen," said Joseph Conroy, a St. Mary's parishioner. "I knew he was innocent."

Carmen Rodriguez, another parishioner, said she believed God had delivered justice with Friday's verdict.

"A year and a half he has been suffering," she said of Grant. "This is a result of not teaching children about respect. Any stage of life, you cannot get away with lies."

According to supporters and St. John, Grant has been living a nightmare since his arrest. But Grant said he was grateful for support from the archbishop, his attorney, his fellow priests and the nuns of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, where he has been staying for the past 18 months.

The Rev. John Gatzak, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Hartford, said Grant's acquittal would factor favorably into the decision on whether to return him to church duties.

Gatzak said Archbishop Henry J. Mansell is pleased with the verdict and reinstating Grant will be a high priority when a review board meets to discuss the matter.

"In light of this favorable verdict he will be eligible for a priesthood assignment," Gatzak said. "We're delighted by the outcome of this case."

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