Independent Review Urged in Diocese's Sex Abuse Cases

By Daniel Tepfer
Connecticut Post
March 19, 2002

The lawyer for 24 people claiming they were sexually abused by priests called on Bridgeport diocese officials Monday to appoint an independent group to review such complaints against priests.

Jason Tremont, whose firm last year settled lawsuits against six priests for about $15 million, said it is not enough for Bishop William Lori to review the files of all 285 priests in the diocese before determining that none pose a threat to children.

"I believe that an independent group, not connected to the diocese, should review complaints made against priests to determine whether they should be reported to prosecuting authorities," he said.

Diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer would not comment on Tremont's proposal.

Unless a current bill to extend the statute of limitations in child abuse cases is passed, complaints against priests from the 1970s and early '80s will not be prosecuted.

State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said complaints against priests reported in recent newspaper stories all occurred beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution.

As to whether the diocese is reporting abuse as required by law he said, "I am confident that all mandated reporters, including all clergy of whatever faith or denomination, are aware of their obligations to report child abuse.

"This office has always been aggressive in prosecuting child abuse cases and will continue to do so."

In an interview with the Connecticut Post last week, Lori acknowledged there have been abuse complaints made against active priests but that these have been reviewed, and it was found that the priests involved do not "pose any threat of committing sexual misconduct with a minor."

Among the files reviewed was that of Monsignor Gregory Smith.

In a lawsuit, Smith was accused of sexually molesting a 16-year-old girl in 1967 and 1968 when he was a pastor and director of the Catholic Youth Organization at St. Theresa's Church in Trumbull.

In September 1997, a Superior Court judge dismissed the case, stating the alleged abuse occurred beyond the statute of limitations for such lawsuits.

However, at the time, diocese officials said Smith had been sent for psychiatric review and would not be returned to active status.

But McAleer on Monday said Smith is an active priest and had his file reviewed by the bishop. He would not comment on the accusation against Smith.



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