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  Documents Shed Light on Church's Treatment of Allegations against Priests

By Dave Altimari, Edmund H. Mahony, Matthew Kauffman and Alaine Griffin
The Hartford Courant
December 2, 2009

http://www.courant.com/community/bridgeport/hc-bridgeport-priestabuse-1202.artdec02,0,6515817.story

CONNECTICUT--Even as a young seminary student, Raymond Pcolka's psychiatric problems caused doctors to question whether he should be a priest.

Early in his studies, seminary officials sent Pcolka home for a year to "recover control of his nerves." But after returning to school, a Bridgeport psychiatrist deemed Pcolka to be suffering an "obsessive compulsive type neurosis." Another doctor diagnosed a neurotic reaction and "adjustment problems of late adolescence." Still another recommended further psychiatric examination for the "uncommunicative" Pcolka.

Timeline

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. Continue reading Timeline...

-- Research by Rosa Ciccio and Tina Bachetti of Center for News Research and Archives.

>> Transcript of Oct. 7, 1997 Videotaped Deposition of Bishop Edward Egan

>> Transcript of Sept. 23, 1999 Videotaped Deposition of Bishop Edward Egan

"If there is any question of this man's stability or ability," one doctor wrote, "I would recommend psychological testing before final vows."

Despite his odd behavior, Pcolka was ordained in 1965 by then-Bridgeport Bishop Walter Curtis and assigned to St. Benedict's Parish in Stamford. Within months, he allegedly fondled an altar boy at the church.

By the time then-Bishop Edward Egan relented and removed him from the priesthood 28 years later, Pcolka had left behind a trail of victims, both male and female, whoclaim they were molested in churches, in his private quarters at church rectories and at a home he owned in New Hampshire.

One of those victims, George Rosado, eventually sued the diocese in 1993, triggering a deluge of lawsuits against the diocese that led to secret settlements costing millions of dollars and a seven-year court battle to keep those files secret.

Pictures: Key Figures In The Priest Abuse Scandal

On Tuesday, thousands of pages of court files from the Rosado case were released to the public. They show that both Curtis and Egan either ignored complaints against Pcolka and other abusive priests, or simply did not believe them.

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.
Photo by SCOTT OLSON

The newly released documents include graphic descriptions of alleged rape and other sexual abuse, letters from the parents of victims urging church officials to take their complaints seriously and depositions in which church leaders reacted dismissively to repeated allegations of abuse.

The diocese issued a statement calling the documents "old news" that had been reported extensively by the press.

"Contrary to the naysayers, this is very old news. Between 1993 and 2002, 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.

"Over the past decade, the Diocese of Bridgeport — and, indeed, the Catholic Church throughout the United States — has brought about a significant culture change regarding the knowledge of and ability to deal with sexual abuse."

But even as the diocese announced Tuesday that it was complying with a court order to release the documents, it withheld nearly 1,500 pages, asserting that those records were privileged under state and federal law and still subject to a court-ordered seal. The withheld documents include 685 pages taken from personnel files of as many as 17 priests who were the subjects of sexual abuse allegations.

The Courant in 2002 obtained Pcolka's personnel file, along with other documents that included depositions from Egan and Curtis, and published a series of stories that showed Egan had failed to aggressively investigate some abuse allegations, reassigned priests he knew had allegations against them and generally downplayed allegations made against many of the priests.

Over the course of five depositions, which were among the documents released Tuesday, Curtis testified that he kept "secret archives" from whichhe regularly purged "antiquated" complaints of sexual abuse. Curtis also said he viewed pedophilia as "an occasional thing" and not a serious psychological problem, and indicated that he was more concerned with weeding out potential gays among clergy applicants.

In one deposition, Curtis claimed that there had been no complaints of children being sexually abused by a priest between 1961 and 1988 — even though multiple complaints had been filed.

Although a dozen people eventually said they were abused by Pcolka, Curtis testified that he didn't remember any complaints against the priest, while Egan admitted that he dismissed many of the claims, simply saying in a deposition, "The 12 have never been proved to be telling the truth."

Egan told attorneys for 23 alleged victims that 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.

In 448 pages of depositions Egan was forced to give as part of 23 now-settled lawsuits against seven priests, the bishop showed little compassion for the alleged victims and instead argued with attorneys 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 in a deposition.

"Claims are one thing," he said. "One does not take every claim against a human being as a proved misdeed. I'm interested in proved misdeeds."

But Egan also acknowledged 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.

The files released Tuesday include an affidavit from a friend of Rosado's sister who accompanied Rosado, his sister, his brother and Pcolka to Pcolka's New Hampshire home sometime after 1977. The girl claims that she saw Pcolka rape the youngest boy and then sawone of them urinating on Pcolka while he was on the bed laughing.

Egan left to become the archbishop of New York in 2000. He was named cardinal of New York shortly before the lawsuits were settled in 2001. He retired earlier this year.

Critics of the diocese have said that church officials fought for nearly seven years to keep the documents sealed to protect Egan's reputation while he was still active. The diocese appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this year declined to hear the case, paving the way for Superior Court Judge Barry Stevens in Waterbury to unseal the files.

"As awful as Cardinal Egan is, he had and has plenty of accomplices," said David Clohassy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "The church hierarchy's self-serving culture of secrecy is widespread and well-entrenched. He alone didn't hide child sex crimes. His predecessor, successor and staff all helped enable child sex crimes, deceive parishioners, stonewall prosecutors and endanger children.

Of the seven priests involved in the lawsuits, one — Joseph Gorecki — has died. Five others — Pcolka, Laurence Brett, Charles Carr, Martin Federici and Philip Coleman — have been removed from the priesthood. One priest — Joseph Malloy — was exonerated, according to the Bridgeport diocese, and is now pastor at the St. Clement of Rome Parish in Stamford.

 
 

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