Lawsuit alleging abuse by former Meriden priest heads to settlement conference
By Mary Ellen Godin
May 15, 2016
A settlement conference on sexual abuse claims against a former St. Stanislaus Church assistant pastor is scheduled this week in U.S. District Court in New Haven.
The case is the third sexual assault on a minor claim against the Rev. Stephen Bzdyra, who served as assistant pastor at the Akron Street, Meriden church from 1979 to 1985. Bzdrya also had claims filed by men who said they were abused while he served at St. Francis Church in New Haven, and as a deacon at St. Hedwig Church in Naugatuck.
St. Stanislaus Church and School and Bzdyra were mentioned with Choate Rosemary Hall as part of the Boston Globe’s recent Spotlight investigation into sexual abuse claims made in New England’s private schools. St. Stanislaus School closed last year because of declining enrollment. Choate investigated a claim against a faculty member and deemed the allegations had no merit.
The first two lawsuits against Bzdyra were settled by the Archdiocese of Hartford. In February, one of the lawsuits filed by William Dotson in 2010, a former alter boy at St. Francis Church in New Haven, was settled for $500,000. Dotson went public after Bzdyra contacted his nine-year-old son on Facebook, the lawsuit claims.
A nun gave court testimony in that case stating she witnessed some ‘troubling’ actions by Bzdyra and a young boy in 1989 that led her to write a letter to the bishop.
According to court records, the plaintiff in the St. Stanislaus case scheduled for a settlement this week is identified as PK, whose family belonged to St. Stanislaus Church in the early 1980s. PK is a resident of California and was a minor at the time of the alleged incidents.
The lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Faxon Law Group LLC in New Haven states that Byzdra met PK at St. Stanislaus and traveled to California to meet with him. Between 1980 and 1983, Byzdra allegedly performed lewd and lascivious acts upon PK. “On diverse dates, Bzdrya repeatedly sexually molested PK and threatened and intimidated PK so he would not disclose Bzdrya’s acts, and provided rewards and other inducements to plaintiff to prolong their relationship,” according to court documents.
Through its attorneys, the Archdiocese of Hartford sought to dismiss the allegations claiming Bzdrya’s conduct was outside the scope and course of his employment with the archdiocese. A federal court judge rejected that argument in 2014. Judge Warren W. Eginton quoted a decision from Nelligan v. Diocese to support his decision to deny the church’s motion to dismiss the charges: “This court, at least, is not prepared to conclude that an activity which might be undertaken by as many as 4 percent of an employer’s employees is a clear cut ‘digression from duty’ as a matter of law.”
PK’s attorney Timothy Pothin declined to comment on the lawsuit until after Thursday’s settlement conference.
Bzdyra is represented by prominent defense attorney Hugh Keefe, who argued the case should be dismissed because the claims were vague and didn’t include dates.
Keefe could not be reached for comment Friday.
The Archdiocese of Hartford placed Bzdyra on suspension from his Seymour assignment shortly after the lawsuits were filed in 2010. His current status as a priest was unclear Friday. Representatives from the archdiocese could not be reached for comment Friday.
The other case mentioned in the Globe’s Spotlight report involves a former Choate student who in 2013 accused a former English teacher of exposing himself when she was a student in 1986. Choate Headmaster Alex Curtis said the school’s investigation “did not produce any information that needed to be considered or investigated further.” The staff member’s attorney denied the accusation. In 2016, the former student contacted the teacher’s current employer, Thayer Academy, which conducted its own investigation and said it could not find any corroborating evidence.
The faculty member was briefly suspended when Thayer conducted its investigation, but has since been reinstated.
Choate Rosemary Hall issued the following statement Friday:
“Student safety and well being are of paramount importance and central to the mission of Choate Rosemary Hall. Inappropriate behaviors and boundary crossings are not tolerated in our school community and we have been proactive in providing our alumni with reporting resources to respond to any occurrences in the past. The school provides our current students thoughtful education and training around issues of healthy relationships. We commend the courage of the victims that have stepped forward to share their stories with the Boston Globe.”