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  Church Denies Egan Knew of Teen Sex Case

By Ken Valenti and Noreen O�Donnell
Journal News
April 13, 2002

The Archdiocese of New York yesterday denied that Cardinal Edward M. Egan knew of and failed to tell civil authorities about a sexual relationship between a priest and a minor girl when he was bishop of Bridgeport, Conn.

A joint statement released by the archdiocese and the Diocese of Bridgeport also disputed reports in Connecticut newspapers that the diocese knew the former Rev. Joseph DeShan had impregnated a woman before 1994, when DeShan petitioned to return to the laity. The statement also questioned whether the girl was a minor.

Reports of DeShan's relationship, coupled with a report yesterday in The Journal News that a principal at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, the Rev. Donald T. Malone, was removed in 1988 after police picked him up for soliciting sex from a teen-age male, made for another trying day for area Catholics.

"We are not going to be treated as children, and we are not going to be kept in the dark," said Georgianna Grant, a Croton-on-Hudson village trustee and 50-year member of Holy Name of Mary Church. She called the new reports "absolutely unacceptable."

"And the laity is not going to take that kind of treatment anymore," she said.

Grant's church was shocked this month when it learned that the Rev. Kenneth Jesselli had been removed for unspecified "inappropriate behavior," two years after he was sent to replace another priest accused of sexual misconduct.

Other parishioners were less critical of the church leadership yesterday and faulted the media for paying too much attention to the crisis.

Helen Manes, also a Holy Name of Mary parishioner, condemned the behavior of priests who abuse children, but said reporting on the scandal had become sensationalized. She said the sexual abuse of children has taken place in many institutions, including schools and the Boy Scouts.

"I don't think the faith should be disdained because of what the church may have done," she said. "I believe in the Catholic faith. I don't know how well the church has done."

In the joint statement from church officials in New York and Bridgeport, it was argued that the person DeShan impregnated "may have been 16," the age of consent in Connecticut.

"Thus, contrary to the report in The Hartford Courant, there would have been no crime to be reported," the statement continued. It said that DeShan "never informed then-Bishop Egan that he had had sexual relations with a minor. Nor did the woman or her family so inform Cardinal Egan or the Diocese."

The Courant reported that the woman was 15 when the relationship began and that DeShan revealed the relationship to the diocese in 1989, when he asked for a leave of absence.

Stanley Tomkiel III, president of the Catholic Coalition of Westchester, said that the church needed to more closely screen people entering seminaries and that "any kind of misconduct is reprehensible, and hopefully the guilty parties will be punished accordingly."

But he added that the issue has been overplayed, and "there is a danger here of a witch hunt."

To Joseph Fosina, a New Rochelle City Council member who attends Mass with his wife at Holy Family Church each Sunday, the number of priests accused of inappropriate behavior is a disappointment. Fosina and his wife have a large family, with many children and grandchildren still in the city.

"With 11 grandchildren, we have communions and confirmations almost every year," he said. As troubling as the church's recent problems are, Fosina said, "I don't think it's shaken the faith of most Catholics. It certainly hasn't in my family."

In the Malone case, police and archdiocese officials agreed in 1988 that the issue would be dropped if Malone were removed from the school and no longer allowed to work with youth. A message left yesterday for the current Stepinac principal, Steven Murphy, was not returned.

In the Connecticut case, the woman DeShan impregnated said she believed she was fired as an evening receptionist from a Bridgeport cathedral because she was pregnant, a charge church leaders also disputed. DeShan, now married with two children, pays child support to the now 28-year-old mother, according to reports.

 
 

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