Egan Failed to Report Relations between Priest and Teen Girl
By Eric Rich
April 12, 2002
While serving as bishop in Bridgeport, Edward M. Egan, now New York cardinal, failed to notify police about a sexual relationship between a 15-year-old member of a church youth group and a priest - a relationship considered statutory rape under Connecticut law.
The teenager, who is now 28, became pregnant with the priest's child in September 1989, two months after her 16th birthday, documents show, and today is struggling as a single mother in Bridgeport.
That same month, the Rev. Joseph DeShan requested a leave of absence from the church and revealed the relationship to diocese officials. Egan allowed him to leave the priesthood and begin a new life as an elementary school teacher in New Jersey - with no record of sexual misconduct.
Diocesan files make no mention of the girl's status as a minor, a spokesman said Thursday evening, but a cursory investigation would have revealed that she was legally underage when the relationship began. Records show that DeShan gave church officials the girl's name, said she worked at the rectory of St. Augustine Cathedral and explained that the relationship began in October 1988, said Joseph McAleer, a spokesman for the Bridgeport diocese.
"Obviously, the church today would not condone what is a criminal act and neither would society," McAleer said. "If it happened today, this would be reported to the authorities without question."
The Bridgeport and New York dioceses said in a joint statement today that the diocese did not know DeShan had fathered a child until he petitioned for laicization - departure of the priesthood - in 1994.
DeShan then said he had a "monogamous relationship with a woman," the dioceses said. The record includes speculation by DeShan's psychologist that the girl was 16, but that is the age of consent in Connecticut, the statement said.
DeShan never told Egan or the Bridgeport diocese that he had sex with a minor, nor did the girl or her family, the dioceses said.
In contrast to Egan's solicitous treatment of DeShan, the mother of the child says she experienced a very different reaction from the church two days after she told DeShan she was pregnant. On that day, she was called in to see Monsignor William Scheyd, a top aide to Egan, and was told that she was fired from her evening receptionist's job at the Bridgeport cathedral.
After that, no one from the diocese contacted her or offered assistance, and no law enforcement authorities ever inquired about her sexual relationship with a priest twice her age - a relationship that, by all accounts, began before she reached the legal age of consent.
Even as a growing scandal roils the Roman Catholic Church nationally, the incident is the first public example of sexual misconduct that occurred and was apparently concealed - and certainly not explored even minimally - while Egan was bishop. Clergy in Connecticut are required by law to report cases of suspected sexual abuse, including statutory rape, a felony.
Attempts to reach a spokesman for Egan in New York - where he became archbishop in 2000 and was elevated last year to cardinal - were unsuccessful Thursday.
The woman, who now lives in a modest apartment on the east side of Bridgeport, never filed a lawsuit against the church and sought child support from DeShan only after she applied for state assistance. She has never discussed the matter publicly, confiding only in her family and close friends, and says she does not plan any legal action.
After she was contacted by The Courant, she agreed to tell her story on condition of anonymity. She said she has come to believe that the attention DeShan lavished on her a decade ago, which she once found so flattering, amounted to mistreatment by an adult who should have known better.
"I'm angry," said the woman, who has worked for several years at a social service agency for abused women and children. "I feel anger because I got pregnant, because I haven't done anything in life that I wanted to do."
She also said she agreed to come forward because she believes the church concealed DeShan's misconduct - and compounded the wrong by firing her.
"People shouldn't be na�ve," she said. "The church hides things, too."
After DeShan was placed on leave of absence, he and the woman lived together in a cabin in Vermont and, later, at his parents' home in a New Jersey suburb. The woman, who is Hispanic and who felt unwelcome in that town, returned to Bridgeport.
DeShan has since married another woman, a doctor. They and their two children live in a Philadelphia suburb. He teaches fifth grade at a public elementary school in Cinnaminson, a small town in New Jersey.
Although he was on a leave of absence from the diocese for more than a decade, the Vatican did not grant his request to formally leave the priesthood until within the past two years.
In a brief interview earlier this week in a parking lot outside the school, DeShan did not dispute the details of the relationship, but declined to say whether Egan knew of the girl's age.
"It was a consensual relationship that didn't work out," said DeShan, who pays child support to this day. "I have no ax to grind with the church."
Scheyd, now the pastor at a church in Norwalk, acknowledged in a brief interview Thursday that he knew the teenager worked at the rectory. He said he could not recall the circumstances of her departure, and does not remember whether he knew she was pregnant at the time.
In the statement today, the dioceses said Scheyd was not aware of the girl's relationship with DeShan and did not ask her to stop working at the rectory, even though he was dissatisfied with her work.
Her job at the rectory put her in close quarters with Scheyd, whom Egan has described as his "most trusted adviser" while serving in Bridgeport. It was in that rectory, the woman said, that she and DeShan first met - and, later, had sex on several occasions.
The woman grew up in Bridgeport, the middle of three siblings. Her father was a factory worker; her mother cared for the children and later worked in retail.
She first met DeShan in the late 1980s, when she enrolled at Bridgeport's Warren Harding High School and joined a youth group and church softball team at St. Augustine Cathedral.
She liked the church. She admired the nuns' selflessness and for a time believed she wanted to become one.
She admired DeShan, too. He was handsome, flattering and easier to relate to than the other priests. He drove her home after youth group sessions, and they soon began spending time together on his days off. As the relationship became sexual, she says, they spent their time far from Bridgeport: There were afternoons hiking at Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden, and nights at a Chester inn.
DeShan, then 30, told her the relationship was to remain their secret.
Despite their efforts to conceal it, she says, there were signs that others might have recognized: A nun caught her once, in the kitchen, sneaking down a back stairway from DeShan's living quarters in the rectory. Another time, she says, a hastily discarded condom was discovered on the floor near Scheyd's office, when an unexpected visitor interrupted their liaison.
In addition, she said, Scheyd, who lived in the rectory with DeShan, appeared to grow increasingly suspicious as DeShan took longer and longer to drive her home after youth group meetings.
"He never straight-out said anything," she said of Scheyd, who was the vicar general under Egan and under Egan's predecessor, Bishop Walter Curtis. "It was just a change in the way he'd look at me, and in his tone of voice. He was cold."
"The way he looked at me, I felt like I was being blamed," she said.
When he fired her shortly after she revealed the pregnancy to DeShan, Scheyd told her someone more experienced would fill the job, she said. The woman believes today, as she did then, that she was terminated because of the pregnancy.
But her understanding of how wrong the relationship was only dawned years later when she surveyed the list of life goals unmet. She never became a police officer, never joined the military, never went to college.
"Around my birthdays I look back and think about those things," she said. "I didn't do anything I wanted to do."
She said she feels, at times, that her struggle today to support herself and her daughter is a sort of divine punishment for the relationship she had with DeShan.
"For a long time I blamed myself because I thought I should have known better, that I was old enough to have known better," she said. "I was a teenager. I was young and na�ve. He was older. He knew better. He wasn't a child."
Wire information included.
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