Simsbury Priest Accused of Improper Touching

By David Owens and Christine Dempsey
Hartford Courant
August 12, 2011,0,3592779.story

The Rev. Edward Warnakulasuriya, accompanied by a parishioner who declined to give her name, leaves Superior Court in Enfield after being arraigned Friday. (Andrew Zaremba / Fox CT / August 12, 2011)

The Simsbury priest charged with misdemeanor sexual assault allegedly touched an 18-year-old man's pubic area while administering confession, according to the warrant for his arrest.

The Rev. Edward Warnakulasuriya was arraigned Friday in Superior Court on three counts of fourth-degree sexual assault. He said nothing during the brief hearing or as he left the courthouse. He was ordered to surrender his passport.

Warnakulasuriya, who is from Sri Lanka, has been suspended by the archdiocese of Hartford. He has not been seen at St. Bernard's Catholic Church in the Tariffville section of Simsbury for several weeks.

Before his appointment to St. Bernard's, Warnakulasuriya served several years as an assistant pastor at St. Martha Roman Catholic Church in Enfield, where he was known by a different name. In church and public records, Warnakulasuriya is also listed as Edward Tissera, and W. Edward Julian Tissera. The archdiocese lists him as Edward J. Tissera.

The 18-year-old man, who told police he has attended St. Bernard's all his life, said he contacted the church rectory last year about scheduling confession and was told he could go to the church on Saturdays or make special arrangements with Warnakulasuriya, according to the warrant. He ended up going to the rectory for confession several times between Warnakulasuriya's arrival at the church in early 2010 and July 18 this year, shortly before he went to police.

In August 2010, the 18-year-old told police, he met with Warnakulasuriya at the rectory for confession. The man told police that Warnakulasuriya blessed him, then told him to lie on the couch in his living room. He then applied holy water to the 18-year-old's forehead and gave him some to drink. He then made the sign of the cross on the 18-year-old's arms, legs and lips.

In December or January, the 18-year-old told police, he went to the rectory for confession and was taken to Warnakulasuriya's guest bedroom, according to the warrant. The 18-year-old said Warnakulasuriya blessed him as he did in August, then had the young man untuck his shirt and pull it up to his chest, according to the warrant. The young man told police Warnakulasuriya also told him to unbutton and unzip his pants. Warnakulasuriya then placed his hand, holding a cross, against the young man's pubic hair, according to the warrant.

In May, the young man said, he again went to the rectory to confess his sins, which he said included masturbation. The 18-year-old told police Warnakulasuriya again took him to the guest bedroom and had him take off his shirt and unbutton and unzip his pants. Warnakulasuriya then put his hand and the cross against the young man's pubic area, according to the warrant.

On July 18, the young man told police, he went to see Warnakulasuriya because he was conflicted about his faith. The 18-year-old told police that Warnakulasuriya noticed he was crying, and kissed him on the forehead "for a long time." The young man again confessed his sins, including masturbation, and Warnakulasuriya said, "Let's go to my bedroom," according to the warrant. The priest offered a "special blessing."

The warrant states that at points the teen told the priest that he was "uncomfortable" with what he was doing.

Upstairs, the man told police, Warnakulasuriya asked him to pull down his shorts. The priest then put his hand inside the young man's boxer shorts and touched his genitalia. The priest said a prayer in a language the young man said he did not understand, and then the priest put oils on the young man's arms, legs and lips, according to the warrant. Warnakulasuriya had the young man rub the same oil on his genitals, the warrant says.

Two days later, the young man said, he met with a priest and nun from the archdiocese and told them what Warnakulasuriya had done. The priest replied that what Warnakulasuriya did was not a blessing and "was very wrong." The young man notified police the same day.

Detectives served a search warrant at the rectory, then obtained a warrant for Warnakulasuriya's arrest.

At the arraignment, prosecutor Debra Collins called the allegations "extremely serious" and asked that Warnakulasuriya be required to surrender his passport.

The priest's lawyer, Walter Bass, said Warnakulasuriya, who is a U.S. citizen, had already turned in his passport.

One of three women who sat with Warnakulasuriya in court said after the hearing, "I stand by Father Ed." She declined to give her name.


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