|Lori Oversaw Change in Handling Abuse Claims against Priests
By Daniel Tepfer
December 2, 2009
After the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport's hierarchy shielded priests accused of sexual abuse for years, Bishop William Lori faced the problem directly.
Days before Lori was installed as Bridgeport bishop in 2001, the diocese agreed to pay about $15 million to 26 people who claimed they were abused by priests in the 1970s and '80s.
Although the abuse occurred during the tenure of Lori's predecessors, Edward Egan and Walter Curtis, he immediately took steps to begin addressing the controversy.
He began meeting with abuse victims and suspending priests accused of abuse, something his predecessors never did. And, in another first, he held press conferences announcing the suspensions.
And while Egan had claimed to have instituted an anti-abuse policy in the diocese, Lori actually set one down in writing and enforced it, requiring all diocesan employees and volunteers to acknowledge in writing they would adhere to the policy.
Under the policy, all diocese employees must undergo a background check and participate in a program on abuse awareness. The diocese also set up a victim assistance program.
"Priests are no longer moved around willy-nilly because of allegations of abuse. Those days are long over," Lori proclaimed in March 2002, although he was careful not to criticize his predecessor, Egan, by name. "It is very important for us to reach out to anyone affected by this, and I want to apologize to anyone who has been hurt."
Lori also played a key role in the June 2002 conference of U.S. bishops that, for the first time, drafted a national policy on handling claims of abuse and working to prevent such problems in the future.
"The Diocese of Bridgeport has one of the most well-conceived and thoroughly administered Safe Environment programs in Connecticut," said diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer. "It has, from its inception, taught against sexual contact outside the bonds of marriage. The diocese and the parishes within its territory have performed 30,000 background checks on lay persons and clergy who serve their parishes or the diocese. They have conducted safe environment training for 95,000 individuals, and they scrupulously comply with child abuse reporting statutes and the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."
In October 2003, the diocese also agreed to pay $21 million to 40 people who claimed to have been abused by 16 priests in the diocese. At a press conference following the announcement of the lawsuits' settlement, Lori publicly apologized to those abused by the priests.
But not all has been rosy.
Although the diocese agreed to pay settlements to people who claimed they were abused by the Rev. Joseph Malloy and the Rev. Martin Ryan, the priests continue to be active in the diocese. Lori steadfastly refuses to suspend the two priests, insisting there is no evidence they did anything wrong.
And for the past seven years, he directed the diocese's fight against releasing the records detailing abuse claims against priests.
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