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  Church Admits Priests' Abuse
Diocese Settles Lawsuits Brought by 26 Victims

By Bernard T. Davidow
Hartford Courant
March 9, 2001

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport admitted Thursday that six of its priests sexually abused 26 boys and girls over more than 20 years, and it has settled a series of lawsuits filed by the victims.

Terms of the financial settlements were not disclosed.

"We acknowledge that there were incidents of sexual abuse. We condemn that behavior and on behalf of those priests involved, apologize to the victims and their families, and ask for their understanding and forgiveness," the diocese said in a statement.

Most of the incidents, the diocese said, occurred in the 1970s.

Negotiations were completed Wednesday, and the settlement was announced Thursday in separate statements by the victims' lawyers and the diocese.

The civil suits named six diocesan priests: the Rev. Raymond Pcolka, the Rev. Martin Federici, the Rev. Charles Carr, the Rev. William Coleman, the Rev. Joseph Malloy and the Rev. Joseph Gorecki.

Gorecki has since died, but the diocese Thursday would not comment on the status of the other priests. Under a written policy initiated in 1990, a spokesman said, priests posing any risk of harm to anyone are removed from their duties and not allowed to minister in the diocese or anywhere else.

The first lawsuit was filed in 1993, against Pcolka, on behalf of two people who said he had abused them. That was followed by a second lawsuit against Pcolka, on behalf of 13 people, and then more lawsuits involving the other priests.

The Tremont & Sheldon law firm in Bridgeport represented 24 of the plaintiffs. Jason Tremont, one of the lead partners in the case, said the diocese never acknowledged fault before Thursday's announcement and, in fact, fought the lawsuits vigorously under former Bishop Edward M. Egan, now a cardinal and archbishop of New York.

"They threatened a defamation suit against us. It was essentially deny, deny, deny. They attacked us ... never admitting or acknowledging the truth of it until now.

"I would argue Bishop Egan has unclean hands," Tremont said. "He's never acknowledged that these incidents happened. He's never apologized for the church's behavior or the priests' behavior."

In a brief statement Thursday, Egan greeted the settlement and expressed hope that it will "enable true and deep healing to begin."

Egan's successor, the Most Rev. William E. Lori, will not be installed until March 19. Monsignor Laurence R. Bronkiewicz, administrator of the Bridgeport Diocese, defended Egan, saying he initiated the mediation process before leaving for New York.

Bronkiewicz said the diocese was constrained from commenting on the cases during litigation but that it has long condemned sexual abuse and other forms of priestly misconduct.

"We're in a position now with the settlement to admit the sexual abuse on the part of our priests," he said.

Tremont said most of the victims were boys, some of them altar boys, and the abuse ranged from fondling to rape, including oral and anal sex. "It ran the gamut," he said. The abuses occurred between 1972 and 1993, he said.

Tremont said his firm is aware of sexual abuse complaints against at least seven other priests who served in the diocese, including some who are still active, but it is not pursuing those complaints. "Some cases are beyond the statute of limitations; some people did not want to bring claims because they were too ashamed, unfortunately," he said.

Victims assaulted as minors have until age 35 to bring a civil claim in Connecticut.

Tremont said the diocese is aware of those additional complaints.

But Stephen Fogerty, lead counsel for the diocese, said, "If there are any other individuals who have been victims of abuse, we want to know who they are, we want to know when it happened, and we want to know which priest it allegedly occurred with."

Said Fogerty, "I can tell you there's not a priest in the Diocese of Bridgeport in active ministry that poses any risk to anyone."

Fogerty said that in addition to its 1990 policy, the diocese has education programs for clergy and lay employees where issues of abuse are discussed.

Negotiations on a settlement in all the suits began last spring, and U.S. Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel of Bridgeport acted as mediator. Both sides praised the work of Garfinkel, who spoke with each victim, most of them face to face and many of them individually, while he mediated the cases.

Tremont said that his firm planned to have a press conference in Trumbull this morning to talk about the case in greater detail, and that some of the plaintiffs might attend.

His law firm urged the diocese to remove the abusers from the priesthood, either voluntarily or through court procedures under canon law. "Only then can the Catholic Faithful be assured that these men will never again give mass or minister to child parishioners," it said in a statement.

CORRECTION:

* Correction was published Saturday March 10, 2001 on Page A2.

The settlement announced Thursday between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and 26 individuals who complained of sexual abuse involved six priests. Five of the priests were named in lawsuits that had been filed against the diocese. A claim against the sixth priest, the Rev. Joseph Malloy, was never included in the suits but was included as part of the settlement, according to Tremont & Sheldon, a law firm representing 24 of the victims. A story Friday on Page A1 reported incorrectly that Malloy was named in the lawsuits.

* Correction was published Tuesday March 13, 2001 on Page A2.

The Courant reported in a Page 1 story Friday that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport admitted that six of its priests had sexually abused 26 boys and girls over more than 20 years. In fact, although the diocese acknowledged that "there were incidents of sexual abuse" and settled with all 26 complainants in the case, the diocese says it did not admit that all of the allegations of abuse against all of the priests had merit. Specifically, the diocese now says it does not believe the single allegation against the Rev. Joseph J. Malloy, pastor of St. Ann Parish in Bridgeport, though the complaint against Malloy was included in the settlement. A story on the diocese's support of Malloy appears on Page A4.

 
 

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