Priest Sex Abuse Destroyed Victim's Spirit, Lawyer Says
By Edmund H. Mahony
February 9, 2012
The lawyer representing a former altar boy suing the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford for sexual abuse by a priest three decades ago told jurors Thursday that the victim probably can never be compensated for the "amputation of his spirit."
"You can't put a price on that," attorney Thomas McNamara told a Superior Court jury in his closing argument. "It's worth more than $1 million. It's worth more than $2 million. Not even $3 million will compensate him."
The now-adult victim, identified in his suit as Jacob Doe, has accused the church of negligence and recklessness. The victim presented evidence during a week-long trial that senior church officials put Father Ivan Ferguson in a position where he could abuse Doe in spite of Ferguson's admission two years earlier that he had sexually abused other boys.
The lawyer representing the archdiocese, John Sitarz, conceded in his closing argument that the abuse by Ferguson occurred and he characterized it as despicable. But Sitarz argued to the jury that former Archbishop John F. Whealon allowed Ferguson to resume contact with children only after experts at a church clinic concluded that Ferguson could control his sexual attaction to boys.
Sitarz also rejected the victim's claims that he will likely suffer for life from depression and traumatic stress associated with the abuse, and he asked the jury to reject the victim's claim that he is due millions in compensation.
"His proposal can easily been seen by all of you as excessive," Sitarz said. "You all know the value of a dollar."
Over two hours of closing arguments, the lawyers agreed, as they had during the trial, on the nature of Ferguson's abuse. And, just as they had during the trial, they disagreed on the central issue before the jury — whether the church acted reasonably and carefully after learning for the first time in 1979 that Ferguson was probably a pedophile.
Evidence produced during the trial, mostly memoranda and letters from archdiocese files, showed that Whealon learned from a mother's complaint in March 1979 that Ferguson had abused two young brothers in Simsbury. The records show that Whealon confronted Ferguson, who admitted the abuse but blamed his behavior on alcohol abuse.
Whealon then wrote in a memo to church files that Ferguson, about 44 years old at the time, admitted that he had failed repeatedly since age 10 to control "homosexual" urges. Whealon forced Ferguson, who died in 2002, to submit to four months of treatment at the St. Luke Institute, a church clinic then located in Massachusetts and known for treating alcoholic clergy.
At the conclusion of Ferguson's in-patient treatment, the clinic director cleared Ferguson to return to the ministry and said that Ferguson's sexual attraction to boys could be controlled as long as his drinking was controlled.
In the summer of 1979, Whealon assigned Ferguson to a parochial high school for girls in Milford. In 1981, Ferguson was again reassigned, that time as principal of St. Mary's grammar school in Derby, were he befriended and abused Doe and Doe's best friend, another altar boy. The director of the St. Luke Institue approved both assignments.
McNamara argued that the so-called treatment of pedophila at the St. Luke Institute was a sham. He said the records and other evidence show that St. Luke Institute was capable of treating only alcohol and drug abuse, not psycho-sexual disorders such as pedophilia.
The church, McNamara argued, was more concerned with keeping Ferguson's behavior a secret than it was in treating it.
In addition, McNamara said there is evidence that Ferguson's superiors in the church failed to act on signs that he was behaving inappropriately toward children after be had been assigned to St. Mary's in Derby.
Among other things, there was testimony at the trial that, after his release from the St. Luke Institute, Ferguson often invited boys to sleepover parties in his rectory rooms. Doe testified that Ferguson partially undressed so he could shower with and soap the backs of grammar school boys following gym class.
McNamara scoffed at an argument by Sitarz that little was known three decades ago about the nature of pedophilia and whether it could be treated.
"Thirty years ago, murder was murder, children were children, and rape was rape,"McNamara said. "It wasn't that long ago."
Following the arguments, the two men and four women on the jury deliberated for about two hours Thursday afternoon without reaching a verdict. They are scheduled to resume deliberations Friday morning.