1 Strike and out for City Priest?
Diocese Studying Effect of Bishops' New Policy on Paturzo's Future
By Matt Burgard
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
June 20, 2002
After 20 years as a well-known activist priest on the streets of Hartford, the Rev. Louis Paturzo has been barred from any type of ministry as fallout from the sexual abuse crisis now gripping the Catholic church.
His future is on hold because of his past. Having placed Paturzo, 54, on indefinite administrative leave last month, the Archdiocese of Hartford is now trying to sort out how to interpret a "one strike" policy adopted last week by a conference of U.S. bishops.
The priest, widely hailed for his contributions to easing gang tensions on city streets, acknowledged last month that he has been the subject of at least two complaints accusing him of improperly touching teenage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Waterbury and Hamden.
The state Department of Correction has also terminated its agreement to let Paturzo minister to inmates at three state prisons for adults. Paturzo also resigned as a peer mediation consultant at Quirk Middle School in Hartford.
Officials for the archdiocese said the suspension is not necessarily permanent, describing it as a precautionary measure while Paturzo's history in the church is scrutinized.
While many priests have histories that clearly deserve swift and severe punishment, including repeated instances of child rape and other forms of pedophilia, priests such as Paturzo pose a more difficult challenge for the church, officials say.
"Here's a priest who is accused of committing offenses when he was much younger, but over the years has overcome these issues and gone on to do great things, at least from all the evidence that has been found," said Jack Sitarz, an attorney representing the Hartford archdiocese. "For the moment, he has been placed on leave as a requirement of diocese policy, if only as a precaution. But the question of whether he can ever return is something that is still very much in the air."
Under the one strike policy adopted by the bishops, Paturzo may well be barred from conducting any kind of ministry again.
The policy was adopted as the church struggles to handle the growing controversy over priests' sexual misconduct, as well as efforts by some bishops to hide the issue by transferring problem priests to other parishes.
Paturzo said he understands the church's decision in light of the current controversy. But he added that his record in Hartford, as well as the findings of two treatment centers that he is safe to be around children, should enable him to return to helping people in some capacity.
"I'm not downplaying the allegations of the past, but the work I've done in Hartford over the last 21 years should account for something, too," said Paturzo, who is allowed to continue wearing his collar but cannot lead public Masses or perform any other church function involving interaction with the public.
Paturzo and other church officials have acknowledged that, when the first complaint was lodged against him about 10 years ago, he was pulled from his Hartford ministry to undergo treatment and evaluation at two institutions.
Both institutions, one in Hartford and the other in Canada, reached the conclusion that Paturzo had been sexually and emotionally immature when he improperly groped and touched teenage boys while serving in parishes in Waterbury and Hamden.
The institutions concluded that Paturzo had outgrown that phase of his development and no longer posed a threat to the children in his ministry. As a result, the archdiocese allowed him to return to Hartford, where Paturzo won praise for his work with gang members and other troubled young people.
The first complaint, made in a concerned parent's anonymous letter, could not be verified in an investigation by state police. The second complaint was lodged earlier this year by a former Waterbury choirboy who now lives in Washington state. His allegations are now being investigated by the archdiocese.
Hartford Archbishop Daniel Cronin was unavailable for comment this week.
"The archdiocese isn't sure how this new policy will apply in this case once it's approved by Rome," Sitarz said. "This is just one of many issues that will need to be worked out."
In the meantime, Paturzo said he has been greeted by overwhelming support from parents and community officials who have long worked with him to help the city's young people avoid a life of drugs and violence.
"This whole experience has been very humbling," he said.
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