Cardinal Describes Ouster of Priest Sued over Abuse

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times
May 18, 2002

The Archdiocese of New York issued an unusual statement yesterday describing how, within weeks of becoming bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., in 1988, Cardinal Edward M. Egan settled a lawsuit over an abusive priest and arranged for his permanent removal from the priesthood.

The defense of Cardinal Egan's actions was issued in anticipation of what the archdiocese's spokesman said were news reports likely to come in the next few days about the former priest, Gavin O'Connor.

"Bishop Egan's handling of the Gavin O'Connor matter is a textbook example of how to treat a case of sexual abuse of minors by a priest," said the spokesman, Joseph Zwilling. "It is outrageous to suggest anything else." He said the statement was intended to "put the case in context."

Mr. Zwilling said that as soon as Bishop Egan learned of the suit, he flew in January 1989 to Tucson, where the priest was, suspended him and persuaded him to sign a petition to the Vatican seeking the priest's removal from the priesthood, which took effect that July, the spokesman said.

Mr. Zwilling defended payments to the priest in the interval, saying church law requires bishops to give financial support to priests under them. The diocese also helped the priest to pay "some personal debts," he said. As for the settlement with the family of the victim, he said, "It is wrong and misleading to call settlements 'cover-ups.' "

His statement contained no details of the case. However, an account of the case this week in The Connecticut Law Tribune lays out some of the facts. According to that report, the plaintiff charged Father O'Connor with sexually molesting him from 1977 to 1984, while he was an altar boy at St. Joseph's Church in Shelton and later when the priest was transferred to St. Edward the Confessor Church in New Fairfield, the report said.

The accuser said the diocese paid Father O'Connor a "substantial amount of money" to persuade him not to testify, the account said. The diocese argued that it had the obligation to support him.


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