|Monsignor Removed after Harassment Allegations
By Daniel Tepfer
June 23, 2011
The longtime pastor of a New Fairfield church was recently removed following allegations that he sexually harassed a female church employee, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport confirmed Wednesday.
Monsignor Martin Ryan, who has been at St. Edward the Confessor Church since 1992, left his post on May 5. Parishioners told the Connecticut Post that Ryan disappeared without explanation from officials.
At the time, diocese officials told the Post that Ryan had been granted a leave of absence to address personal issues. On Wednesday, diocesan officials said Ryan had been removed after harassment allegations from a female church employee. Ryan could not be reached for comment.
Ryan had been accused of molesting a teenage girl at St. Theresa's Church in Trumbull in the 1970s. The diocese's 11-member review board subsequently determined that while Ryan may have "celibacy issues," he should remain a priest in the diocese.
In an interview with the Post, the 49-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld, claims she first complained to diocese officials in March that Ryan was acting inappropriately toward her. Diocese officials Wednesday confirmed they did get the complaint in March.
The woman, who recently resigned from her job with the church, says Ryan touched her inappropriately on a number of occasions in the church office and also sent her inappropriate emails. She said she twice asked him to keep their relationship at an appropriate business level.
"I had just gone through a divorce, and I guess I was an easy target for him," she said.
She said she became frustrated when the diocese did not immediately remove Ryan, but instead offered to have him apologize to her.
"They fully intended to sweep the whole thing under the rug," she said.
"If the diocese had come forward and said `we accept what you say and we are taking immediate action,' I wouldn't be speaking to you now," the woman said.
Diocese officials Wednesday forwarded a letter sent to the woman on June 17 from Louise Stewart-Spagnuolo, director of human resources for the diocese. In that letter, Stewart-Spagnuolo disputed the woman's claim that the diocese had shown indifference to her "concerns." The letter goes on to point out how Stewart-Spagnuolo organized a meeting between the woman and Ryan so that the woman could directly notify Ryan that his actions had made her uncomfortable and to ensure that he ceased such actions. The woman said she attended the meeting but was not satisfied with its outcome.
On April 26, Stewart-Spagnuolo conducted a Safe Environments and Sexual Harassment workshop for St. Edward's clergy and staff, which Ryan did not attend. She said the woman notified the other employees after that workshop that she had raised a complaint of sexual harassment against Ryan. At a subsequent meeting on April 28, several of the other employees expressed concern about Ryan's "unpredictable and unkind management style," Stewart-Spagnuolo said in a letter to the woman.
"I took seriously the concerns expressed by you and your co-workers and I discussed those concerns with both Monsignor (Kevin) Royal and Monsignor (Jerald) Doyle, the Episcopal Vicar for Administration. As a result, on May 5th, Monsignor Royal and I returned to the parish, met again with the lay employees (including you) and informed the employees that Monsignor Ryan would be moving out of the parish that same day. Monsignor Ryan did leave the parish on May 5th and remains on a leave of absence to address his physical, mental and spiritual health."
This is not the first time Ryan has faced charges of inappropriate behavior. In 2002, a Trumbull woman went public with allegations that she had been molested by Ryan in the rectory of St. Theresa's Church in Trumbull in the 1970s when she was 15 or 16.
In an interview with the Connecticut Post, the woman, whose name was withheld, said she had made a formal complaint of her allegation to the then-diocese general counsel Michael Dolan.
A year later, the diocese agreed to pay the woman a settlement, along with other people who claimed they had been abused by other priests in the diocese.
In a statement released by the diocese Wednesday, spokesman Brian Wallace said Ryan's resignation was tendered and accepted after the diocese "was made aware of inappropriate emails he had sent to a parish employee."
Wallace said the diocese acted quickly to investigate the concerns of the employee and some emails she received from Ryan.
"It should be made clear that although the emails included statements that were not appropriate for a pastor to communicate, there was no allegation or evidence of any sexual conduct," Wallace said in the statement.
"Although the Diocese is disappointed that Msgr. Ryan sent the emails at issue, it believes that such conduct should be viewed in context and does not erase his many years of dedicated priestly service."
Contact Daniel Tepfer at 203-330-6308 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter.com/dantepfer
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