|Diocese Paid $40,000 to Settle Abuse Claims against Monsignors
By Daniel Tepfer
December 11, 2009
A nationwide organization advocating for people abused by clergy Friday criticized the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport after the disclosure that the diocese paid $40,000 in 2004 to two men who claimed they were abused by priests still active today in the diocese.
"Why pay $40,000 to men who say they were molested unless you believe them?" asked Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "How is this any different from what's gone on for decades: Victims report abusive priests, quietly get paid off, the clerics keep working and the public is kept in the dark?"
The diocese paid $20,000 each to the two men who agreed not to sue the diocese or the two priests -- Monsignors William Genuario, who heads the diocese's marriage tribunal, and Frank Wissel, pastor at St. Mary Parish in Greenwich.
The payment was authorized by Bishop William E. Lori, according to the Hartford Courant, which first reported the story.
Wissel, 71, who was unavailable for comment, denied the allegations to the Courant, calling them "ridiculous." He said the diocese investigated the allegation and deemed it to be false.
"I didn't know about any payments. It certainly wasn't done as any admission of guilt, that's for sure," Wissel told the newspaper. "Because I was willing, if I had to, to go to court over this. It was ridiculous. What that money would have been for, I don't know. Perhaps rehabilitation."
could not be reached for comment.
"Both Monsignor William Genuario and Monsignor Frank Wissel are priests in good standing. Neither has been the subject of a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor," the diocese said in a statement Friday.
The two men claim they were abused by the two priests in the 1970s and early '80s.
In another complaint against Genuario, Tom Kelly, of Bridgeport, said he had informed diocesan officials in April 2002 he had been abused by the priest.
Kelly said in 1967, when he was 13, he and several other boys went to Expo '67 in Montreal with Genuario. He said while he was taking a shower the priest, who was naked, tried to join him and asked Kelly to wash him.
Kelly said diocese officials offered to provide him with counseling. While the diocese previously acknowledged the meeting with Kelly, no action was taken against the priest.
In an unrelated claim against Wissel, a Greenwich woman in 2001 said that she was mauled by Wissel's dog outside St. Mary's Church in that town. At the time, she said Wissel offered her a bottle of liquor in compensation. The diocese later agreed to pay her a settlement, said her lawyer, Griffith Trow.
Earlier this month, the Bridgeport diocese released about 12,000 documents pertaining to several sex abuse claims made against priests during a period of several decades. Some of those records disclosed how Genuario reviewed sex abuse complaints against priests and gave orders to move them around.
Genuario in 1978 became vicar general of the diocese, the right-hand man of then Bishop Walter Curtis.
In a 1997 deposition, Genuario testifed about his involvement in handling complaints that had been filed against the Rev. Laurence Brett in the 1960s, alleging that Brett had been sexually abusing children.
A male Sacred Heart University student complained that Brett, then chaplain at Sacred Heart, had sexually abused him. The incident was discussed in a letter written by Genuario on Dec. 2, 1964. The letter states that Brett admitted to the incident.
The letter went on to state that Brett was to be taken away. "A recurrence of hepatitis was to be feigned should anyone ask."
In his deposition, released with other documents, Genuario admitted that not only did he prepare the so-called hepatitis letter but also typed it himself. Asked why he did it, Genuario added, "I was the vice chancellor at the time and was called in to (do the work)."
Genuario also acknowledged he had spoken to a woman who complained she had an affair with Monsignor Gregory Smith. Smith would later confess to Bishop William Lori that he abused two young women at St. Theresa's Parish and was suspended.
The dozens of complaints of pedophilia and other incidents of abuse in Bridgeport parishes mirrored claims in numerous other dioceses.
By 2003, the diocese had agreed to pay $37.7 million to settle dozens of claims of sex abuse committed by priests against minors, many of them altar boys. Lori, who apologized to victims of abuse when he became bishop of the Bridgeport diocese in 2001, created a nationally emulated program to handle abuse claims, discipline offenders and create a safe enviroment for Catholics in the diocese's 87 parishes.
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