|Diocese Fights Lawsuit Alleging Abuse by St. Theresa's Priests
By Daniel Tepfer
November 24, 2009
BRIDGEPORT -- Even as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport moves to comply with a court order to make public thousands of documents detailing abuse by its priests since the 1960s, it is fighting an order to turn over information in an unresolved lawsuit alleging that priests at a Trumbull church abused children.
In a recent motion filed in Waterbury Superior Court, the diocese asks to block release of information about priests at St. Theresa's Parish dating to the 1970s.
The motion was made in a lawsuit filed against the diocese by Michael Powel, who claimed he was abused by the Rev. Joseph Gorecki in 1971 at the church. Gorecki died in 1988 and Powel died of cancer last year, but the case is still being pressed by Powel's cousin, Margaret Jensen, the administrator of his estate.
In their motion, the lawyers for the diocese state they have collected 126 boxes of documents regarding abuse by priests at the Trumbull church. The motion states the diocese has now identified eight priests who have been accused in 32 claims of abuse at St. Theresa's Parish.
"Requiring the diocese to review such information is unfair, will cause substantial financial hardship, will delay discovery and the trial of this matter, and will ultimately delay and confuse the issues at trial," the motion states.
According to the diocese, nine of the 32 claims occurred before 1973, 18 took place between 1973 and 1983; two occurred between 1984 and 1989, and three other claims are dated after 1990.
The U.S. Supreme Court last month ended the diocese's six-year fight to keep sealed the documents detailing abuse by priests when it refused to hear a diocesan appeal of the Connecticut Supreme Court order that the records be made public. The diocese was initially ordered to turn over the documents for lawsuits filed in the early 1990s, but they remained sealed. The state Supreme Court in May ordered the files be unsealed, and after losing several motions before the nation's high court, the diocese has been forced to release the documents next Tuesday.
Since the 1990s, 20 priests in the Bridgeport diocese have been suspended in the sex-abuse scandal. In March 2001, the diocese paid $15 million in settlements and in October 2003 it paid out another $21 million.
J. Michael Reck, who with Helen McGonigle, represents the Powel estate in the lawsuit against the diocese, said many of the documents they are seeking from the diocese about abuse at St. Theresa's Parish are among those ordered unsealed by the Supreme Court.
"It's not like they are saying they don't have the documents. They are saying not only do they exist and they have them, but they are just not going to give them to us," Reck said.
Reck said he already has information regarding seven priests, including Gorecki, who were accused of abusing children in the Trumbull church, but was surprised to learn from the diocese's motion that there is an eighth priest. "We really don't know who that could be, but hopefully we will find that out in the documents," he said. "They had a nest of criminals in one little parish."
Besides Gorecki, Reck said other claims of abuse by priests at St. Theresa's Parish have been made against the Rev. John Castaldo, the Rev. W. Phillip Coleman, the Rev. Martin Federici, the Monsignor Smith, the Rev. Joseph Moore and the Rev. Martin Ryan. Ryan is currently pastor of St. Edward the Confessor Parish in New Fairfield.
"Michael Reck, attorney for the estate of Mr. Michael Powel, has issued a press release today making accusations about circumstances two generations ago in order to engender bias in present judicial proceedings and to create false impressions regarding the Diocese of Bridgeport," diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer said Tuesday. "Mr. Reck sensationally announces that 'this is a public safety nightmare.' It is not. None of the priests from this parish who are alleged to have abused a child remains in ministry. The diocese removes from ministry any priest who is found to have abused a child."
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