Plaintiff in Priest Sex-abuse Trial Wants $1.1 Million
By Dave Altimari
August 8, 2012
A New London woman who says she was molested as a 12-year-old by a now-deceased priest is seeking at least $1.1 million in damages from the Norwich Diocese.
Identified as Jane Doe in court document, the woman alleges she was abused by Father Thomas Shea in 1976 when he was pastor at St. Joseph's Church in New London. She is claiming that diocese officials, including former Bishop Daniel Reilly, knew Shea had a history of previous abuse allegations and moved him from parish to parish.
Shea is suspected of abusing as many as 15 girls in 11 different parishes from 1953 through the 1970's. He died in 2006.
Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger ordered jury selection to start Wednesday afternoon in Hartford after denying a motion by the diocese attorneys to postpone the trial until late October. Evidence in the case is slated to begin Sept. 5.
Among the reasons diocese attorney Gary Kaisen cited in a motion to delay was the $60 million fine levied against Penn State by the NCAA following the conviction on sexual abuse charges of former coach Jerry Sandusky. The diocese attorneys argued the large fine could desensitize jurors in this case or impact potential damages.
Berger dismissed the motion Wednesday, ruling that the Penn State case has no bearing on this case and is "certainly no reason at all to hold up this case."
Kaizen also argued jury selection should be delayed because he needed to depose as many as 20 potential victims of Shea that New London attorney Robert Reardon, who is representing Doe, recently added to his witness list.
Kaizen also said that Reardon had not provided an accurate accounting of potential lost wages or medical expenses the woman incurred.
Reardon told the court that his client will be seeking slightly more than $1,1 million; including $515,000 in mental health expenses from 2004-2012; $216,000 in lost wages after she left her job as a blackjack dealer at the Mohegan Sun in 2003; and more than $400,000 in potential future wages.
As for the witnesses, Berger said most of them have been known to the diocese for years. Reardon got the list when the diocese was ordered to turn over more than 600 pages of personnel records concerning Shea.
"If the witnesses only came from attorney Reardon that would be one thing but the diocese has known about these allegations for years in some cases,'' Berger said.
Bishop of Norwich Michael Cote is expected to testify about his attempt to have Shea laicized by the Vatican through a letter he wrote to the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
In the 2005 letter, Cote wrote that the "trail of destruction caused by Thomas W. Shea is staggering." He wrote that there were at least 15 credible cases of abuse by Shea of girls under the age of 18, including one girl who tried to kill herself three times before she turned 23.
"The people who have been directly affected by his behavior as well as the entire People of God would welcome his involuntary dismissal from the clerical state," Cote wrote.
The Vatican denied Cote's request about a month later in a letter that stated that the charge "involves incidents which, while serious in nature, occurred over 35 years ago." Ratzinger was elected pope days after receiving Cote's letter. It is unclear if he had any involvement in the Vatican's response.
The trial is expected to last at least three weeks.