$22 Million Deal in Priest Abuse Scandal Stirs Emotions, Stuns Parishioners
Settlement: No Relief from the Pain
By Dave Altimari, Matt Burgard and Frances Grandy-Taylor
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
November 1, 2005
Some of the priests involved in the Hartford Archdiocese's $22 million sex abuse settlement had well-documented histories of alleged misconduct. In other cases, churchgoers were shocked by the news Monday that clergy members they had known and trusted for years had been accused of abuse.
For parishioners of SS. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church in Hartford, the revelation that the Rev. William Przybylo was among the priests involved in the deal was especially difficult. Przybylo, who adamantly proclaimed his innocence Monday, is the only one of the 14 still in active ministry.
The settlement was among the largest in the country but represents a portion of abuse cases in the archdiocese.
Discussions began two years ago with a roomful of lawyers, an archdiocese representative and a federal court magistrate in Bridgeport with a history of mediating sexual abuse claims against priests.
Along the way, the 43 accusers told their painful stories to U.S. Magistrate William I. Garfinkle. In many cases lawsuits were never filed. Some date as far back as the early 1970s.
For some victims, the settlement doesn't end the pain they have suffered.
"This will never be over," Kevin Zile said as he fought back tears sitting in his lawyer's Bridgeport office Monday morning.
Zile said that when he was an altar boy and assistant to the Rev. Thomas Glynn, the priest repeatedly plied him and other young teenage boys in his parish with alcohol and drugs and then sexually abused him. Zile said he kept quiet then because he felt no one would believe him.
"There were times when I was driven to New York City and woke up in the back of the car, tied and being abused by men I didn't know," said Zile, 52.
The accusations against Przybylo date back to the 1970s when he was a priest in the Bridgeport diocese, although no lawsuit was filed against him. Przybylo also served at Holy Cross in New Britain from 1972 to 1990.
"I want to state that I am totally innocent of the misconduct that has been alleged against me — in my over 30 years of priesthood, I have tried my very best to live the life of my calling," Przybylo said in a statement released Monday. The priest said he was "personally devastated" by the allegations, and joined the settlement only to avoid the ordeal of a court trial.
According to the Hartford Archdiocese, six of the priests — the Rev. Edward Muha, the Rev. Joseph Buckley, the Rev. Ivan Ferguson, the Rev. John Graham and Msgr. Edward Reardon and Glynn — have died; the Rev. Felix Maguire, the Rev. Stephen Crowley, the Rev. Raymond Paul and the Rev. Daniel McSheffery have retired.
Three other priests — the Rev. Louis Paturzo, the Rev. Stephen Foley and the Rev. Kenneth Shiner — were stripped of their faculties as priests, said the Rev. John P. Gatzak, the archdiocese spokesman.
Gatzak said Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, who was also involved in the mediation process, hopes the settlement will bring healing to those involved. Gatzak said the two allegations against Przybylo could not be corroborated and his more than 30-year record is otherwise spotless.
Many of Przybylo's parishioners were unaware of the allegations or the settlement. As he waited for his daughter to come out of the church's school Monday, Salvatore DeGross said parents should be made aware.
"It should be posted on the front door," DeGross said. "If he's part of the settlement, then he's acknowledging participation."
Some expressed surprise that his name surfaced in the sexual abuse scandal.
"I don't believe any of it," said Andrew Bogacki, historian and former board president of the Polish National Home, of the man he called "Father Bill." "I have been in service to that church for over 70 years. I've never heard of or witnessed or ... seen any kind of clue of any such thing."
The mediation efforts were approved by then Archbishop Daniel Cronin. Not all of the priests were directly involved in the settlement.
Church officials said the archdiocese was hoping the mediation route would spare victims the trauma of testifying in court, save legal costs and put the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the past.
But that's not likely to happen. About a dozen lawsuits are pending against the archdiocese. New Haven lawyer Hugh Keefe, who represents McSheffery, said he expects at least two cases he's involved in to go to court.
"These cases were settled without our consent and without any admission of guilt by my client," Keefe said. "This is the biggest settlement in the Hartford Archdiocese history and it was done in some cases by settling with people who never even filed lawsuits and it will be paid for by the hard-working people who give money on Sundays."
Gatzak said none of the money would come from the archbishop's annual appeal. Instead it will be paid through a combination of outside insurance payments, money from an archdiocesan self-insurance fund, and long-term savings.
'This Is A Great Day'
New London attorney Robert I. Reardon, who attended the initial meeting of lawyers with Garfinkle, has four cases pending against Foley, the former state police chaplain. Reardon called the settlement, which averages about $511,000 per person, a "good one" but said he believed the conduct alleged in the cases against Foley was so "outrageous" that it was better to pursue them in court.
But for other attorneys, the chance to let their victims meet directly with the judge and to settle the cases in many instances without filing a lawsuit was too good to pass up.
"This is a great day for these brave survivors who have for so long suffered in silence at the hands of priests who preyed upon them and the bishops who looked the other way," New Haven attorney Thomas McNamara said. "The settlement money will not erase their pain but it does serve as a validation of their accusations and as a symbol that each has taken a significant step to reclaim that which was taken from them in their youth."
McNamara represented 16 of the 43 accusers who settled their cases. Two of his lawsuits involved priests who had not previously been accused of sexual abuse — Muha and Buckley.
Muha was the priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Terryville in 1970 when the accuser, who was 7 or 8 at the time, went to see him because he couldn't memorize some of the prayers necessary to get his First Communion, a lawsuit states. The victim has preferred to remain anonymous.
The boy sat on Muha's lap and started reading the prayers, while Muha sexually abused him, McNamara said. Muha abused the boy at least six more times, McNamara added.
In Buckley's case, George Tifft was 14 when he met Buckley, who asked him if he wanted to do yardwork at Buckley's Guilford cottage. Tifft contended that Buckley spiked his Coke with rum and molested him in the shower. Afterward he gave him $20 to keep quiet, Tifft said.
The liquor, abuse and money kept up for four months, he contended.
It would plunge Tifft into a living hell for 21 years, he said Monday.
"I went through suicide attempts, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, a failed marriage — I had no hope. It was like God was for someone else, not me. The loss was insurmountable," Tifft said.
Then two good things happened. At 35, contemplating suicide, he met a Christian counselor who helped him find Christ. And on Jan. 23, 2004, he sat down with Garfinkle and told his story.
"If there is justice, it was on that day," Tifft said. "The judge said there was nothing in my complaint that he didn't believe. To have a higher authority accept what I was saying — for me, that was really my day in court."
Tifft took the settlement offer with mixed emotions.
"It's a day I never thought would come. But no amount of money can rectify the loss," Tifft said.
Hearing The Stories
Garfinkle also mediated the 2003 settlement in the Bridgeport case in which 40 victims received $21 million, a slightly higher average per person than in this case. Both are among the largest church abuse settlement cases in the country.
All of the parties praised Garfinkle's hard work on a difficult and long mediation process that included not only listening to each victim's story but also assigning a monetary value to his pain and suffering that both sides could agree on.
Zile was one of two victims who showed up at attorney Jason Tremont's Bridgeport office Monday morning to talk about the horrors of their past to make sure that no more children are victimized the way they were.
The scars of the abuse remain raw, practically always on the surface, he said.
"I drank a lot," said Zile, who said he has been sober for 10 years after his alcoholism threatened to ruin his marriage and his relationship with his children. As a psychiatric nurse, Zile said, he was surprised when each of his three suicide attempts failed.
"I was a nurse, I should have done it better," he said.
The other victim to come forward Monday was James Hackett, who said that as a 12-year-old altar boy in Hamden he was molested by Paturzo in the early 1970s. Paturzo later become well-known in Hartford, where he mediated disputes between gang members and helped troubled families.
Hackett's mother was watching television one night in the 1990s when she saw that Paturzo was being given a grant to buy a van that would enable him to travel through the city's neighborhoods and provide guidance to young people. Outraged, Elizabeth Hackett decided to write to police warning them that Paturzo was a sexual predator, though she kept the letter anonymous to protect her son's privacy, she said.
The letter prompted a state police investigation that in 2002 led to Paturzo's decision to resign from his post as a counselor at a Hartford middle school. He also was forced to stop working as a chaplain for prison inmates at various state correctional facilities.
A Call For Reform
Since 1950, 24 priests in the Hartford Archdiocese have had substantial sexual abuse allegations against them with 79 victims, according to statistics released last year in a national study that surveyed 195 Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. Six of the priests involved in the current settlement had been reported previously by archdiocese in that survey.
David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (SNAP), called on the Hartford Archdiocese to post on its website the names of all priests who are proven, admitted or credibly accused abusers, a practice done by several dioceses across the country.
"Evidence of reform would be for bishops to notify people of these abusers and their whereabouts. These men are still walking the streets unsupervised and undetected, and the archdiocese is putting the privacy rights of child molesters above the safety of kids," Clohessy said. The policies and procedures enacted by dioceses in recent years are "belated, begrudging and untested," he said.
Courant Staff Writers Courant Staff Writers Josh Kovner and Jeff Cohen and researchers Sandy Csizmar and Cristina Bachetti contributed to this story.
Correction published November 2, 2005.
U.S. Magistrate William I. Garfinkel's last name was misspelled as Garfinkle in a story on Page 1 Tuesday.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.