|Lori Works to Rebuild Diocesan Credibility
Documents: Ex-Bishop Egan Shuffled Priests in Sex Cases
By Daniel Tepfer
March 17, 2002
Bridgeport - While priest sex scandals make headlines nationwide, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport is quietly working to rebuild its credibility under Bishop William Lori's supervision.
Lori — who became bishop of the Bridgeport diocese a year ago Tuesday — said he plans to step up enforcement of the diocese's sexual-misconduct policy.
This involves reviewing all files of the diocese's 285 priests and 86 deacons to see if any pose a danger to children. Lori also vowed that priests who have been suspended because of sexual misconduct allegations will never hold a clergy post again.
"At this point, I can say that, to the best of my knowledge, there are no priests or deacons of the diocese of Bridgeport in active ministry who pose any threat of committing sexual misconduct with a minor," Lori said in a wide-ranging interview last week. Just before Lori's installation last year, the diocese, after seven contentious years of litigation, agreed to settle lawsuits filed by 26 people who claimed they were abused by diocesan priests in the 1970s and 1980s.
While the exact settlement was not officially disclosed, sources say it totaled $15 million. While the diocese contends that figure is too high, it nonetheless is believed to be the largest amount ever paid out by a state diocese to settle such claims.
But it is far from the largest in the nation, as the Boston archdiocese expects to pay out $100 million to settle lawsuits against priests accused of sexually abusing children there.
The Bridgeport settlement also marked the first time diocesan officials publicly admitted that some of its priests had molested children.
Lawyers for the victims claimed that the main stumbling block to settlements had been former Bishop Edward Egan, now cardinal of New York's Archdiocese.
Court documents obtained by the Connecticut Post show that soon after becoming Bridgeport's bishop in 1988, Egan was informed of sexual-abuse complaints made against particular priests.
But instead of reporting these complaints to authorities, Egan essentially played a shell game by re-assigning the priests involved to churches around the diocese, the documents show.
In June 1989, Egan moved the Rev. Charles T. Carr — who previously received psychiatric treatment for allegedly molesting children at churches in Bethel and Norwalk — to Central Catholic High School as spiritual director. And in 1990, after receiving more complaints about Carr, he moved him again to St. Philip Parish in Norwalk, according to court records.
The Rev. Martin Federici, accused of abuse in several complaints and who was diagnosed by a psychologist as having "poor contact with reality," was assigned by Egan in 1989 to Cathedral High School.
Court records show numerous other transfers of priests accused of abuse.
Four of the six priests listed in the 2001 settlement — Raymond Pcolka, W. Phillip Coleman, Federici and Carr — were suspended by the diocese only after lawsuits naming them as abusers were filed.
Sources close to the settlement negotiations said it was no coincidence the deal was reached only after Egan had officially left the diocese for New York.
"Bishop Egan and the diocese of Bridgeport handled the sexual-abuse claims like the head of a tobacco company or a high-level Enron executive," said Jason Tremont, whose Bridgeport law firm represented the 24 of the 26 victims in the settlement. "They attempted to wage a public relations campaign of denial and, at the same time, obtained a court order preventing the public from hearing the truth."
But in a reversal of previous policy in New York, Egan last week said that archdiocese will now report suspected pedophile priests to authorities for criminal investigation.
Lori, who took over 10 days after the Bridgeport settlement was finalized, immediately set about reforming Egan's policies in Bridgeport.
"Priests are no longer moved around willy-nilly because of allegations of abuse," Lori said. "Those days are long over. When a lot of that was done, people did not understand the high rate of recidivism, the nature of the disease and the bad effect it had on the victims.
"Today we do. For that reason, the church, as well as the rest of society, has taken a new approach" to matters of sexual abuse.
Lori explained that now, when a credible abuse allegation is received by the diocese, the person involved is confronted, relieved of his or her duties and sent for evaluation or treatment. Also, the diocese will try to cooperate with victims and their families and, if warranted, refer cases to state authorities.
"It is very important for us to reach out to anyone affected by this and I want to apologize to anyone who has been hurt. It is utterly against all we stand for. The only way we can really prevent this is to be as vigilant as we can," Lori said.
A bishop apologizing in the Bridgeport diocese was unheard of previously, but Lori appears to take the issue very seriously.
Last May, when the Rev. John Castaldo, Trinity Catholic High School's chaplain, was charged with soliciting sex over the Internet from an undercover investigator he thought was a 14-year-old boy, Lori went to the school and apologized to graduating seniors and their parents.
After meeting with Castaldo, Lori suspended the priest from his duties. A lawsuit pending against the diocese claims Castaldo in 1991 molested a 13-year-old boy at St. Teresa's Church in Trumbull. The bishop would not comment on that lawsuit.
Egan had adamantly refused to give interviews about sexual allegations against priests, going so far as to run from a reporter who sought to question him at the Holiday Inn in Bridgeport. So Lori readily agreeing to an interview can seem surprising.
The interview was held in the bishop's office in the Catholic Center, a mammoth room with yellow walls. Lori sat at a large carved wood desk that came with him from Washington, D.C., where he had served as auxiliary bishop.
"They insisted I take it with me," he joked.
Physically, Lori is a sharp contrast to his predecessor. While Egan was a large man with a booming voice, Lori is slight and speaks softly.
The bishop said he is aware of the extreme financial burdens other dioceses are facing because of sex-abuse complaints and damage awards. Bridgeport, however, is not one of them, he said.
"The diocese is in good financial condition. The funds donors gave us for charities are being used for those purposes, the money given for the annual bishop's appeal is not going to these settlements," Lori said. "Most of the money for the settlements is from insurance money and reserves set aside for such eventualities."
Lori's review of priests' files — which he says shows no instances of sexual abuse — includes the "mysterious seven" priests who lawyers claimed allegedly were involved in abuse incidents, but were not named in lawsuits and referred to only as colors, "Father Purple, etc." in court hearings.
The review also includes the file on the Rev. Joseph J. Malloy, former chaplain of the Bridgeport Fire Department and former pastor of St. Ann's Church in Bridgeport, who was accused of molesting a boy in a complaint included in the settlement. Malloy, now in Stamford, has not been suspended.
"As to Father Malloy, we did not find the allegation credible. We publicly stated that," Lori said. "We have confidence in Father Malloy, the description of the allegation did not make sense."
The Bridgeport man told the Connecticut Post he was 10 years old and an altar boy at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Trumbull when the assault took place.
Malloy has denied the allegation.
Lori admitted he never interviewed the alleged victim, but relied on what other diocesan officials told him of the incident.
Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, whose diocese has been wracked with sexual-abuse cases over the last several months, recently turned over to state prosecutors the names of at least 80 priests accused of abuse. But Lori said he is not planning to do the same.
"We have always cooperated with civil authorities in the past and we will have to see what happens with future legislation. What the law would ask of us we would do," he said. "The vast bulk of what we have is already out there and has been made public.
"The files of the priests involved in the cases were reviewed by the judge and anything relevant to the situation is known. I want to get this on the table, but I want to make sure that good priests are not victimized by allegations."
Lori said he has learned that Carr was ministering in a nursing home in Danbury and had him removed. This came just after Tremont notified diocesan officials of a new complaint against Carr by a man who says the priest abused him in a Wilton church in 1982.
"We keep abreast of where these priests are and if we ever discover they are doing any kind of ministry we will make contact with the appropriate authorities and put an end to it," Lori said. "We are very vigilant lest any of these people seek a ministry."
One priest who has managed to avoid the diocese's scrutiny is the Rev. Lawrence Brett, one of the country's most notorious child abusers.
Brett, who is being sought by the FBI, is accused of sexually abusing children in Fairfield and Stamford in the 1960s and later in California and Baltimore. Sources estimate he cost the diocese nearly $1 million in settlements.
Court document show that in 1990, Egan apparently knew where Brett was and even invited him to return to Bridgeport.
"We have no information where Brett is and we would be happy if he were found and brought to justice," Lori said.
At one point, records show that Brett appeared ready to voluntarily be defrocked — called "laicized" in church terminology — but never signed the papers necessary.
Lori was asked why the diocese now does not forcibly laicize Brett and the other priests who are currently suspended.
"I simply can't laicize them at will. I can recommend that they voluntarily receive laicization," the bishop said. "I can't do it without going through a difficult process.
Many of the suspended priests still live in the area. Pcolka, accused of molesting 16 children, left a psychiatric treatment center without permission. He is living in Southbury.
Lori said the diocese is continuing to pay the suspended priests, but he said they are paid only enough to sustain them and keep them off the welfare rolls. He said the diocese will stop payments once they get non-religious jobs.
Daniel Tepfer, who covers state courts and law enforcement issues, can be reached at 330-6308.
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