At Civil Trial, Two Men Testify That They Were Abused by Priest
By Dave Altimari
January 26, 2012
They were eighth-grade altar boys at St. Mary's Church in Derby, best buddies since grammar school, mesmerized by "Father Ivan," who treated them like adults and offered sleepovers at the rectory.
Now they are together again, both suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford for transferring a known pedophile priest to their school only months after he had finished "treatment" in Massachusetts.
The case of Jacob Doe entered its third day Thursday at Superior Court in Waterbury. The plaintiff and his childhood friend, known as Matthew Doe in court papers, testified before a six-member jury.
In sometimes emotional testimony, the men, now in their mid-40s, told similar stories. They met the Rev. Ivan Ferguson, who died in 2002, when he began working at the school affiliated with the St. Mary the Immaculate Conception Church in Derby. Both boys were altar boys and testified that they immediately liked Ferguson when he showed up there in 1980.
"He was unlike any priest I had ever met before,'' Matthew Doe testified. "I've never met a priest who let you call him by his first name before. I felt I could tell him [Father Ivan] anything and it wouldn't go beyond him.''
Ferguson invited the two boys to sleep over at the rectory shortly after they started the eighth grade back in 1981, according to testimony.
"I thought we were going to be doing lots of fun stuff," Matthew Doe testified.
After dinner, Ferguson showed them pornographic magazines and encouraged the boys to masturbate while he walked in and out of the room. Soon, the two Does testified, the priest gave them what they called "bear hugs."
Ferguson later introduced them to a friend of his who owned a condominium in Fairfield. The boys were invited over for a dinner, some wine was served, and pornographic movies were popped onto the TV screen, Matthew Doe testified.
Matthew Doe testified that he went to sleep on the couch and woke up with Ferguson performing oral sex on him. It was the first of several times that Ferguson abused him, Matthew Doe testified. Earlier, Jacob Doe testified that Ferguson sodomized him at one of the sleepovers.
"I was very upset and didn't know what to do. All I remember was wishing that I could call my mom but I couldn't,'' Matthew Doe testified through tears. His mother had died when he was 12, his father when he was 10.
The two boys never told each other what Ferguson had done to them, they testified. It wasn't until years later when they both separately decided to sue the church that they realized they had both been victimized by the same priest.
What the two boys did not know was that the archdiocese assigned Ferguson to the school in Derby in spite of a complaint from a mother in Simsbury that Ferguson had previously abused her two sons while assigned to St. Bernard's Church in Simsbury's Tariffville section.
Ferguson was sent to St. Luke's Institute in Massachusetts for treatment. The diocese attorney, John Sitarz, said Thursday that Ferguson stayed at the institute for at least four months and wasn't returned to ministry until after the mental health officials there cleared him.
The negligence suit against the Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation alleges that Jacob Doe's abuse was the result of the church's failure to take steps that would have kept Ferguson away from children. Matthew Doe's lawsuit, similar to Jacob Doe's, is pending.
Jacob Doe's lawsuit claims that then-Archbishop John Francis Whealon and others within the diocese, aware that Ferguson was a pedophile, still put him to work at a school full of boys. Whealon died in 1991.
It is rare for priest sexual abuse cases to go to trial. The Hartford archdiocese has settled numerous claims for millions of dollars over the years to avoid trials at which testimony about what church officials knew and when could come out. It is unclear why these cases have not settled.
In cross-examination Thursday, Sitarz highlighted the differences between Matthew Doe's deposition and his testimony on the witness stand, including that Matthew Doe said during his deposition that he had slept at the rectory only once. He testified Thursday that it was likely eight or nine times.
Sitarz also got both men to acknowledge that they never told Ferguson to stop or told anyone about what he had done to them and that they repeatedly returned for the sleepovers.