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  Quirk Students React with Anger, Solace

By Matt Burgard
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
May 21, 2002

Hartford — Tyreka Atkins said she felt angry at Father Lou, even a bit betrayed.

Pedro Vasquez said he was surprised, but still wished the best for the priest.

"Whenever I get into trouble, he's the one who's there listening," said Pedro, a 14-year-old student at Quirk Middle School in Hartford. "I think he should be able to stay."

Such were the reactions Monday from Quirk students, staff and parents after learning of the resignation late Friday of the Rev. Louis Paturzo, a Hartford priest who acknowledged last week that he has been the subject of two complaints dating back 30 years accusing him of fondling adolescent boys. Paturzo had served as a peer mediation consultant at Quirk's Student and Family Assistance Center for the past three years.

"I'm, like, totally shocked," said Tyreka, a 15-year-old eighth-grader. "They should have never let him work here."

Paturzo has not admitted or denied the allegations in the complaints, but has spoken of regret for the harm caused by the immaturity of a sexually confused young priest.

In his time at Quirk, "Father Lou," as many students and staff called him, earned a reputation as a tireless worker in the struggle to keep city kids from quitting school and turning to gangs and drugs.

But for all his contributions, some parents and students said they felt uncomfortable knowing how closely Paturzo worked with youngsters, given the allegations.

"I had no idea, which makes me kind of unhappy with the school, to tell the truth," said Nancy Cruz, who picked up her daughter Swindy, 14, after school Monday. "I think they should find out if anybody knew about this situation and let him work here anyway."

When the 54-year-old Paturzo offered his resignation to Principal Amador Mojica on Friday, one day before the sexual misconduct complaints were detailed in The Courant, the two plotted a course of action for helping students and staff cope with the news on Monday, Mojica said.

Mojica prepared a letter for students to take home to their parents Monday explaining the priest's departure. The letter attributed the resignation to the revelations about Paturzo's past, going on to say that "at no time has there been any indication of any improper behavior on the part of Father Paturzo."

Mojica said most students and staff seemed supportive of the priest, saying his good works at the school outweighed the alleged transgressions of his past. One student, he said, was so upset at Paturzo's departure that he broke down in tears and was allowed to go home early.

Other students who knew Paturzo, while expressing surprise and sadness at the news, were able to return to class, the principal said.

"We were expecting a potential commotion in terms of how the students would respond, but it's been fairly calm," Mojica said just before school let out for the day. "A lot of the students and staff are talking about it, but they're all handling it well."

After the school day was over, Mojica called an emergency meeting to talk to staff about how they felt students were responding to Paturzo's resignation.

In all, Mojica said, 15 students sought out counselors who were made available to help them cope with Paturzo's resignation, most of whom knew the priest through the school's Student and Family Assistance Center.

Paturzo was asked to join the program three years ago as school officials were responding to the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Paturzo, who over his 21 years in Hartford forged a strong relationship with gang leaders and other troubled youths, said he was asked to help teach students how to resolve disputes without turning to violence.

Officials with the school district said they conducted a thorough background check before hiring Paturzo on a part-time basis in 1999. But officials at the Hartford Archdiocese have said they were not aware of Paturzo's work at the school until several months after he had already started.

Diocese officials said two psychological evaluations that Paturzo underwent after the first of the two complaints was lodged against him in 1993 concluded that he posed no threat to young people. That complaint involved an anonymous woman who wrote a letter to state police claiming Paturzo fondled her son 17 years earlier while he was assigned to a parish in Hamden.

State police investigated the complaint, but no action was taken because the victim could not be identified.

The second complaint came three months ago, when a former choir boy notified the archdiocese that Paturzo had fondled him in 1972 in the rectory at Sacred Heart Church in Waterbury. The alleged victim, now a 42-year-old businessman who lives in Washington state, has been negotiating with the archdiocese for a settlement.

Archdiocese officials were not available to comment Monday on the investigation into the complaint, or what action is being planned for Paturzo, who is now assigned to St. Anne-Immaculate Conception Church. The priest also works as a chaplain at three adult correctional centers in the state.

 
 

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