|Timeline: Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport Priest Abuse Case
By Rosa Ciccio and Tina Bachetti
The Hartford Courant
December 1, 2009
March 2001. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport settles 23 lawsuits brought against seven unnamed priests for an undisclosed amount of money. The court orders the documents sealed and church officials believe eventually destroyed. Four newspapers – the New York Times, Hartford Courant, Boston Globe and Washington Post, file an emergency appeal in April 2002, seeking to have the documents preserved and unsealed. The diocese embarks on what would be more than a seven-year battle against the newspapers.
March 17, 2002. The Courant publishes a story based on thousands of pages of sealed court documents and testimony from civil suits against six priests. Among the findings:
New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan, while serving as bishop of the Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese from 1988 to 2000, allowed several priests facing multiple accusations of sexual abuse to continue working for years.
Former Bridgeport Bishop Walter Curtis, who ran the diocese for 27 years before Egan, testified in 1995 that the diocese deliberately shuffled pedophile priests among parishes to give them a "fresh start," and admitted destroying records of complaints against some priests. Curtis also said he didn't believe pedophilia was a permanent condition.
In 1964, a teenage student at Sacred Heart University accused Father Laurence Brett, a spiritual director of the university, of performing oral sex on him and biting his penis to prevent him from ejaculating. Bishop Curtis discussed the situation with the Vatican representative in Washington, D.C., and decided not to suspend Brett but to send him out of state. Diocese officials were told that "hepatitis was to be feigned" as an excuse for Brett's absence. In seeming exile, Brett was supported financially by the Bridgeport diocese and was permitted to perform priestly functions. Brett held a variety of ecclesiastical positions in New Mexico, California, and Maryland for the next thirty years, becoming a writer and television minister. In 1991, Egan investigated Brett's case and allowed him to remain in the ministry. When more accusations against Brett surfaced, Egan suspended his priestly faculties.
In 1991, Egan appointed Rev. Charles Carr parochial vicar of Saint Andrew Parish in Bridgeport, where he was allowed to minister to children, despite ongoing complaints about pedophilia that had forced Carr into treatment at Hartford's Institute for Living for evaluation at least twice. When the first lawsuit against the diocese in connection to Carr was served in 1995, Egan suspended Carr and placed him on an indefinite leave of absence.
Church officials had received abuse complaints about Rev. Raymond Pcolka since his first assignment, in 1966, at St. Benedict's Parish in Stamford. He was transferred several times over the years and sent to the Institute of Living for evaluation at least twice. Egan eventually suspended Pcolka in 1992, but continued to pay his salary, provide health benefits and cover the cost of his attorney's fees for several years. In addition, Egan did not make any effort to remove Pcolka from the priesthood, saying he didn't have sufficient evidence that Pcolka had abused anyone. In 1994, Pcolka exercised his Fifth Amendment privilege more than 100 times when questioned about abuse allegations involving more than a dozen victims over several decades.
March 18, 2002. Bishop William E. Lori speaks to the media, vowing to introduce initiatives to root out pedophiles in the diocese.
March 20, 2002. Egan, now Cardinal of New York, releases a statement labeling pedophilia an "abomination." He responds to the recent Courant story, saying the report "omitted certain key facts and contained inaccuracies," and that he is "confident that these cases were handled appropriately." Egan refuses to pledge that the church would report all abuse allegations to authorities, saying that in some circumstances, the diocese would decide whether there are sufficient grounds to notify authorities.
March 22, 2002. The Courant reports that sealed documents reveal the Roman Catholic Church hired in at least one case a private detective to dig into the personal life of an alleged victim and report findings to then-Bishop Egan's top aide, even though the accused priest had faced other sex complaints and had admitted to biting a teenager during oral sex in 1964.
March 24, 2002. Doctors at Hartford's Institute of Living, a nationally renowned psychiatric hospital that for years has treated clergy accused of sexual misconduct, say they were deceived by the Roman Catholic Church into providing reports that the church used to keep abusive priests in the ministry.
April 12, 2002. The Courant reports that Egan, while serving as bishop in Bridgeport, failed to notify police about a sexual relationship between a 15-year-old member of a church youth group and a priest, even after the teenager became pregnant with the priest's child in 1989, two months after her 16th birthday.
April 21, 2002. Bishop William E. Lori announces the departures of four of the seven "John Doe" priests. During a press conference he announces the suspension of Rev. Stanley N. Koziol of St. Mark Parish in Stratford and the resignation of Monsignor Gregory M. Smith, director of the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Studies at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. He also reveals that two other priests who had left their parishes without explanation in 1997 had at the time been removed for sexual misconduct on orders from then-Bishop Edward M. Egan. Those priests were Rev. Joseph Moore and Monsignor Charles W. Stubbs. The "John Doe" priests were individuals referred to, but never publicly identified during years of litigation against the diocese by victims of other priests.
April 24, 2002. Lawyers for The Courant and The New York Times argue in Waterbury Superior Court that sealed files from the sexual misconduct lawsuits, slated for destruction because the cases were settled out-of-court, should be released for public inspection.
April 29, 2002. Rev. William D. Donovan of Fairfield resigns after the Diocese of Bridgeport, for the first time, reports an allegation of sexual abuse by a priest to state criminal investigators. A second priest, Rev. Alfred J. Bietighofer, assistant pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Bridgeport, resigns after two men complained to the diocese that he sexually abused them when they were minors.
May 16, 2002. The Rev. Alfred J. Bietighofer, 64, commits suicide by hanging himself in his room at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, MD, one of the nation's premier hospitals for the treatment of troubled clergy.
August 2002. A Hartford Courant investigation locates the Rev. Laurence F.X. Brett, who disappeared in late 1993, living on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Called a criminal and "evil man" by Church officials in Bridgeport and Baltimore, Brett faced allegations that he had abused more than two dozen children in Connecticut, New Mexico, California and Maryland dating back to the early 1970s.
October 16, 2003. Bridgeport Bishop William Lori apologizes to sexual abuse victims, asking for forgiveness, as he announces a $21 million settlement with 40 people who say they were molested by priests.
November 4, 2005. The state Supreme Court rules to affirm a lower court decision effectively granting four newspapers, including The Courant and The New York Times, permission to intervene and seek access to sealed documents relating to a Bridgeport priest sex scandal previously settled. Emphasizing the presumption that court records are open to the public, the Supreme Court sends the case back to Superior Court in Waterbury for a new hearing on the merits of the newspapers' motion to open the files.
December 6, 2006. A Superior Court judge rules that the public has the right to view sealed court documents from nearly two dozen sex abuse lawsuits files against the Bridgeport diocese that were settled in 2001, saying that the original reason for their secrecy – to ensure a fair trial – is no longer relevant. Four newspapers, including The Courant, had sought to have the documents unsealed in 2002. The Diocese later appeals the decision.
May 22, 2009. The state Supreme Court rules for the second time that the public should have access to nearly all of the 12,675 pages pertaining to some of the 23 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse claims against at least seven priests from the Bridgeport diocese. The Courant obtained copies of some of the sealed documents in 2002, resulting in a number of articles detailing how then-Bishop Edward M. Egan and other officials in Bridgeport ignored accusations or protected abusive priests.
November 2009. In an attempt to keep the documents secret, the Diocese of Bridgeport admits in a court filing that it is aware of 32 claims of sexual abuse allegedly committed by eight priests in the parish of St. Theresa's in Trumbull between the years of 1968 and 2000.
December 1, 2009. 12,600 pages of documents released.
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