Memos Show Catholic Archdiocese Kept Abusive Priest's Pedophilia under Wraps
By Edmund H. Mahony
The Hartford Courant
January 31, 2012
A priest who was a former top aide in the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford testified Tuesday that he arranged treatment in 1979 for a fellow priest who sexually abused boys, but said he had no knowledge of the church's ever doing anything for the victims.
The Rev. Gene Gianelli also testified that he decided to keep the name of the church clinic where the abusive priest was sent for treatment from the mother of two, abused brothers because he was afraid that she could become "a pest."
"I will not let this woman know where Father is receiving treatment," Gianelli wrote in a March 21, 1979, memo to Archbishop John F. Whealon. "She could become a pest."
Gianelli, who was Whealon's secretary from 1972 to 1982, was called as a witness Tuesday at Superior Court by a now-adult, former altar boy who claims in a lawsuit that the Archdiocese of Hartford was negligent in the late 1970s and early 1980s by failing to stop his abuse by the Rev. Ivan Ferguson.
Among other things, the victim — identified in court documents as Jacob Doe — claims in his suit that Ferguson abused him and his best friend from childhood when the boys were students at St. Mary's parochial grammar school in Derby in the early 1980s.
Doe claims that the diocese failed to control Ferguson in spite of knowledge by the archbishop and others that Ferguson had previously abused the two brothers in 1979. The mother of the two brothers reported their abuse to the Rev. Joseph Donahue, who lived with Ferguson at the rectory of St. Bernard Church in the Tariffville section of Simsbury.
At the time he abused the brothers, Ferguson was teaching at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford. In July 1979, after four months of supposed treatment for a sexual attraction to young boys, the archdiocese reassigned Ferguson, first to a girls school in Milford and then to the co-educational grammar school in Derby, where he molested and sexually assaulted Doe.
Doe's lawyer, Thomas McNamara, introduced several documents as evidence in court Tuesday, some of them notes and memos between Whealon and Gianelli. McNamara has argued that the documents show that the archdiocese was more concerned with keeping Ferguson's pedophilia secret than it was with the well-being of his victims.
Gianelli, in response to questions from archdiocese attorney Jack Sitarz, defended what he called efforts to be "discreet" about what he referred to as Ferguson's "emotional and psychological problems."
Gianelli said the archdiocese was hoping in 1979 that it could successfully treat Ferguson for pedophilia and alcoholism. If Ferguson had been treated with success, Gianelli testified, his career as a priest would have been ruined if the history of sexual abuse and alcoholism had become generally known.
In response to another question from Sitarz, Gianelli said he worried that if the mother learned where Ferguson was being treated, she could become a pest by disrupting his treatment with repeated telephone calls.
One of the memos introduced as evidence Tuesday shows that Gianelli learned of the abuse of the two brothers in an emotional, early morning telephone call from Ferguson on March 7, 1979. Gianelli described the call, in which Ferguson admitted the abuse, in a memo to Whealon. Whealon then arranged a meeting for later that day with Ferguson and others.
Whealon later reported what had transpired during the meeting in a note to Ferguson's file.
"I talked with Father Ivan and also Father Donahue. Ivan has been homosexual of nature, has had overt expressions of it intermittently since age 10, has made many promises and has failed. Now alcohol has entered the picture," Whealon wrote in the note.
"Ivan is totally contrite. … He says there is no immediate danger of touching others and that he needs help."
Whealon concluded the note by instructing Gianelli to look into some form of treatment for Ferguson. He also said the mother of the boys, whom he described as "the woman," should be told that Ferguson would receive treatment but asked not to tell anyone what had happened.
"I hope that [Ferguson] can get help and control it permanently," Whealon wrote in the note. "Otherwise we have a real problem."
Whealon, in consultation with Gianelli, decided to send Ferguson, against Ferguson's wishes, to the St. Luke Institute in Holliston, Mass. In the late 1970s, St. Luke's was a church institution known principally for treating priests and nuns who were alcoholics. One of the issues in dispute in Doe's suit is whether anyone — including specialists at the institute — was capable of treating pedophiles.
Upon Ferguson's release from treatment in July 1979, Whealon assigned him to Laurelton Hall, an all-girls school in Milford. Gianelli testified that the director of the St. Luke Institute believed that Ferguson's pedophilia could be controlled if he controlled his drinking of alcohol.
A Naugatuck Valley priest testified earlier that Whealon asked him to help Ferguson become affiliated with an Alcoholics Anonymous group. No evidence has been presented that Ferguson ever became seriously involved in Alcoholics Anonymous.
By 1981, documents associated with Ferguson's follow-up visits to the St. Luke Institute show that he was trying to obtain another position teaching in a school attended by boys. The Rev. Michael R. Peterson, the priest and psychiatrist who ran the institute, supported Ferguson's push for a new teaching assignment in a June 22, 1981, letter to Whealon.
"I simply wish to document in writing my total support of Father Ivan Ferguson seeking a more exciting teaching assignment as he will outline to the Personnel Board and you personally," Peterson wrote.
"As you are aware, it is my professional opinion that the other issues that brought Father Ferguson to us for treatment will be in control as long as the disease of alcoholism is in control," Peterson wrote.
Within weeks, for reasons that have not yet been addressed in court, Ferguson was working as priest and director at St. Mary's School, the diocese-operated grammar school for boys and girls in Derby, where Doe claims his abuse began.
Whealon, Ferguson and Peterson have all died. Gianelli is now pastor of a church in Woodbridge.