|Cardinal Edward Egan Protected Abusive Priests
at Victims Expense
Secret Documents On Priest Abuse Released After Seven Year Battle
By Dave Altimari
The Hartford Courant
December 1, 2009
[Transcript of Oct. 7, 1997 Videotaped Deposition of Bishop Edward Egan]
[Transcript of Sept. 23, 1999 Videotaped Deposition of Bishop Edward Egan]
"Claims are claims. Allegations are allegations."
Those six words uttered by retired Cardinal Edward M. Egan during two depositions neatly sum up his approach to handling the burgeoning priest sexual abuse scandal that he inherited when he took over the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut in the late 1980s.
In 448 pages of depositions that Egan was forced to give as part of 23 lawsuits against seven priests that eventually were settled, the Bishop showed little compassion for the alleged victims and instead argued with attorney's that only a "remarkably small number" of priests have ever been accused of wrongdoing.
"These things (sexual abuse complaints) happen in such small numbers. It's marvelous when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have ever been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything,'' Egan said.
"Claims are one thing. One does not take every claim against a human being as a proved misdeed. I'm interested in proved misdeeds.''
Egan's depositions taken in 1997 and 1999 were supposed to remain sealed forever when the diocese settled the cases in 2001. The Hartford Courant obtained copies of them in 2002 and published several stories about them. But on Tuesday for the first time some documents were made available to the public after a seven-year court battle by the Bridgeport Diocese to keep them secret.
But in releasing the documents, the diocese withheld nearly 1,500 pages, saying the records were privileged under state and federal law and still subject to a seal order.
The withheld documents include 685 pages taken from priests' personnel files, and documents identifying two "John Doe" priests whose names have not been publicly released -- documents that originally had been entered in court only for "in camera" review by a judge.
In ordering the diocese to release the records, the state Supreme Court in June had identified 15 documents that could remain confidential. But the court also let stand a trial judge's ruling sealing the "in camera" documents, saying the newspapers had not challenged that seal order.
The diocese also asserted in a court document filed Tuesday that disclosure of the withheld records was barred by attorney-client privilege, confidentiality of personnel and medical records, confidentiality of statements made to clergy and Constitutional protections against government interference with churches.
"For example, the disclosure of information related to the evaluation of a clergy member's suitability for ministry or for a particular assignment," the diocese wrote, "would be in violation of the Religion Clauses under the Federal and State Constitutions."
Those are some of the same legal arguments the diocese made in seeking to block disclosure of the documents -- a fight that appeared to end a month ago when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the diocese's appeal of a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling ordering most of the documents released.
The state Supreme Court had identified 15 documents that could remain sealed. But the diocese claimed in court papers Tuesday that no court had ever overturned earlier rulings sealing various records -- including the nearly 700 pages of personnel records.
Egan's depositions were released Tuesday. The documents contain depositions from the hierarchy of the diocese, including Egan's predecessor Walter Curtis, who not only acknowledged keeping secret files on priests but also that he deliberately destroyed alleged complaints of sexual abuse against some of them because the complaints were "antiquated."
Pictures: Key Figures In The Priest Abuse Scandal
Many of the complaints date back to the late 1960s and 1970s and church officials dismissed much of it as old news while emphasizing that the diocese has undergone a culture change regarding the knowledge of and ability to deal with sexual abuse.
"Contrary to the naysayers, this is very old news. Between 1993 and 2002, more than 200 media reports were published about these and other cases, including extensive Hartford Courant coverage in 2002 in an article that published, without permission, many of the sealed documents. The coverage included the names of the accused priests, critiques of the Diocese's handling of the complaints, victims' accounts, and many other details,'' the diocese said in a statement.
Of the seven priests involved in the lawsuits one -- Joseph Gorecki -- has died. Five priests -- Charles Carr, Raymond Pcolka, Laurence Brett, Martin Federici and Philip Coleman--have been removed from the priesthood. One priest, Joseph Malloy was exonerated, according to the Bridgeport diocese and is currently the Pastor at the St. Clement of Rome Parish in Stamford, Conn.
Egan left to become the Archbishop of New York shortly after the lawsuits were settled. He went on to be named a Cardinal and retired earlier this year.
Critics of the diocese have said that they fought for nearly seven years to keep the documents sealed to protect Egan's reputation while he was still active. The diocese appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided earlier this year not to take up the case, paving the way for Waterbury Superior Court Judge Barry Stevens to finally unseal the files.
Only 15 documents will remain sealed because the state Supreme Court ruled they were not submitted as legal documents. Attorneys for the diocese on Tuesday also submitted to Stevens a list of other documents they believe are privileged and should remain sealed that Stevens must rule on.
During his deposition with attorneys from Tremont and Sheldon, the Bridgeport firm that filed the lawsuits, Egan comes off as dismissive, argumentative and at times condescending.
The documents show that Egan failed to investigate aggressively some abuse allegations, reassigned priests that he knew had allegations made against them and in general downplayed allegations made against many of the priests.
At one point, Egan said he wasn't interested in allegations -- only "realities." He added that "very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything'' against a priest.
For example, regarding a dozen people who made complaints of sexual abuse and violence against Pcolka, of Greenwich, Egan said, "the 12 have never been proved to be telling the truth."
Egan also acknowledges that he never attempted to seriously investigate the truth of such allegations -- accusers were not interviewed, witnesses were not sought, and no attempt was made to learn of other possible victims.
Egan allowed Pcolka to continue working as a priest until 1993, when he suspended him after Pcolka refused an order from Egan to go to the Institute of Living in Hartford for psychiatric treatment. Egan referred to the Institute as his "preferred" place to send priests who needed counseling.
His handling of complaints made against Carr was no different, the records show.
Despite a May 1990 memo by a diocese official worrying about "a developing pattern of accusations" that Rev. Charles Carr of Norwalk had fondled young boys, Egan kept Carr working as a priest until 1995, when he suspended him only after a lawsuit was filed.
Egan's aide, Vicar Laurence R. Bronkiewicz, wrote a sympathetic note to Carr.
"Trusting that you understand the reasons for these actions, I join Bishop Egan in praying that the Lord will bless you with the graces you need at this time in your life," Bronkiewicz said.
Egan actually reinstated Carr in 1999 as a part-time chaplain at a church-run nursing home in Danbury. But after yet another accusation against Carr surfaced in 2002, about an incident from long ago, then-newly installed Bishop William Lori finally defrocked Carr last month and referred him to state child protection authorities. Carr is no longer a priest.
The documents also show that Egan inherited the priest abuse scandal from Curtis, who admitted he deliberately shuffled pedophile priests among parishes to give them a "fresh start." Records show that seven priests accused of sexual misconduct were at one time assigned to St. Teresa's Church in Trumbull between 1965-1990.
Curtis, who is now deceased, was deposed three times. He also admitted he did not think that pedophilia was a permanent condition.
Curtis viewed pedophilia as "an occasional thing" and not a serious psychological problem and was more concerned with weeding out potential gays among clergy applicants.
"We had a policy in this sense, that before a candidate was accepted for study for the priesthood, [they] would have psychological testing, and if there appeared signs of homosexuality, he wouldn't be accepted," Curtis testified.
Curtis also testified that records of complaints against priests would usually be put into the diocese's "secret archive," a canonically required cache of historical documents accessed only with keys kept by the bishop and the vicar.
He said he would occasionally go into the archive and remove what he called "antiquated" abuse complaints, and destroy them.
One of the priests that Curtis protected was Brett, who was moved around not only the Bridgeport Diocese but also to several others including Sacramento and Baltimore before he was finally removed as a priest by Egan in the 1990s.
Along the way he abused dozens of boys and even admitted to Bridgeport church officials to biting the penis of a student at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield during non-consensual oral sex.
Brett was confronted and subsequently ordered to leave the diocese. He traveled the country in seeming exile, but was permitted to continue as a priest under the auspices of the Bridgeport diocese, first under Curtis and later under Egan.
When he was removed by the diocese in 1964 church officials wrote in a memo that if any parishioners asked about Brett's sudden absence that "hepatitis was to be feigned" as a cover.
During his deposition Egan argued with the plaintiff's attorneys who claimed the memo showed the church was trying to hide Brett.
"I would read it that this man is going away, and if anyone asks, say he's not well, he has hepatitis. That's quite a bit different than saying you are going to hide it," Egan said.
Egan added that he wouldn't have made up an excuse about a priest's absence, preferring instead to simply tell anyone who inquired that it was none of their business.
Egan allowed Brett to continue working as a priest outside of the diocese until February 1993, three months after receiving additional allegations of sexual misconduct against Brett from the 1960s.
When the allegations came in, Egan's aide, Bronkiewicz, wrote a letter alerting the archdiocese in Baltimore, where Brett had been assigned, and assuring the public knew nothing about the latest allegations against Brett.
"At the present time, we have no reason to believe the accuser of Father Brett intends to take legal action of any kind, and there has been no publicity concerning the accusation," Bronkiewicz wrote.
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