Egan Accused of Cover-Up
Church Worker: Bishop Knew of Girl's Pregnancy by Priest
By Daniel Tepfer
April 13, 2002
Bridgeport - In the maelstrom over revelations that a Catholic priest impregnated a local girl, a former church employee claims that not only did then-Bishop Edward M. Egan know about the affair, he directed management of the potentially explosive situation.
Like the chairman of the board, Egan sat at the head of the dining table in the rectory of St. Augustine's Cathedral in late summer or early fall of 1989, telling other Diocese of Bridgeport officials how to handle the situation, according to the woman, who asked that her name not be used.
"Joseph [DeShan] has decided to go because he had gotten [the girl] pregnant," the woman recalled Egan telling other priests at the table.
The woman's account of the apparent coverup was labeled a "total fabrication," by Joseph McAleer, spokesman for the Diocese of Bridgeport. The charge is the latest in a series of questions raised about how Egan, who was bishop of Bridgeport for 12 years, handled sexual-abuse cases involving priests. Egan was named archbishop of New York in May 2000 and elevated to the rank of cardinal in February 2001.
On Friday, diocesan officials said the former priest, Joseph Michael DeShan, acknowledged in 1994 that he had had a sexual relationship with a "woman" beginning in October 1988 and that because of that relationship the woman gave birth to their child in May 1990.
They said DeShan volunteered to leave the priesthood and admitted to the affair when interviewed about his decision.
McAleer said Friday the diocese knew nothing about the relationship until 1994. He said information he provided Thursday -- that diocesan officials knew about the relationship in 1989 -- was inaccurate and the result of a "misunderstanding."
McAleer also said that in 1994 DeShan did not disclose to church officials the woman's name or age, saying only that he was in a monogamous relationship with a woman.
The woman, who lives in Bridgeport, told the Connecticut Post her relationship with DeShan began when she was 14 and working after school at St. Augustine's rectory.
She also said she was fired by Monsignor William Scheyd after he became aware she was pregnant, a claim McAleer denies.
In a statement Friday, the diocese contended neither the woman nor her family had informed Egan or the diocese of the situation.
The woman, however, insisted that she had told church officials.
"They knew about it," she said later Friday. But she declined further comment, saying the controversy has left her distraught.
The former church employee who recounted the dinner at which Egan and other diocesan officials allegedly discussed the DeShan affair said she was hired in late summer 1989 to replace the girl with whom the priest had a relationship.
She said she was 15 at the time and a parishioner at St. Augustine's.
"Monsignor Scheyd approached me and said they had to let [the girl] go and would I like to take her place," she recalled. "We all knew Father DeShan had gotten her pregnant; it was common knowledge in the rectory and it was the reason he had left and she had been fired."
The woman said she was one of a group of teen-aged girls hired to work from 5 to 9 p.m. in the rectory for $3.50 an hour as a receptionist, and to serve the priests dinner and clean up afterward. She said they also served meals to homeless people who came to the door of the rectory.
"I remember coming in and Monsignor Scheyd said Father DeShan is no longer with us. If anyone asks, we are just to say that he left for personal reasons," she said.
"Father DeShan was a very nice priest; he was very good looking. We all thought he was cute with dark hair and blue eyes," the woman said. "Everyone opted to go to Father DeShan if we had a problem. He was like the hip priest."
She said about two weeks after DeShan left the rectory she was serving dinner in the dining room. She recalled that Egan sat at the head of the table, and that Scheyd and several other priests were present.
She said Egan was discussing the relationship between DeShan and the girl and how the diocese should proceed. At one point she said Scheyd noticed she was there and motioned to Egan "and they hushed up."
She said she is "absolutely sure," based on her recollection of the conversation, that Egan knew DeShan was having an affair with the girl. She said she is equally sure Scheyd knew how old the girl was because he had hired her.
"It's not true," said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, who returned telephone calls seeking comment from Egan. However, when asked what the basis for the denial was, Zwilling snapped, "It's not based on anything The cardinal did not know about it until 1994."
Scheyd, now at St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Norwalk, was unavailable for comment.
Though DeShan had a sexual relationship with an underage girl, he won't be prosecuted for it.
"We can not prosecute without a complaint and we have never received a complaint," said State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict. "In addition, the allegations appear to have occurred beyond the statute of limitations.
Priests and church officials are required by law to report incidents of sexual assault, including sexual relations with a child under 16. However, there is a one-year statute of limitations.
Daniel Tepfer, who covers state courts and law enforcement issues, can be reached at 330-6308.
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