'60s Molestation Suit by Ex-Shelton Woman
By Daniel Tepfer
July 26, 2006
BRIDGEPORT -- A former Shelton woman claims she was sexually abused on numerous occasions by a Catholic priest in the early 1960s.
In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court here against the Bridgeport Diocese, Debra Fila said she was repeatedly abused by the Rev. William Fletcher in his office at St. Margaret Mary School in Shelton.
A spokesman said the diocese has no previous record of any complaints of this nature against Fletcher in his 44 years as a priest.
"It is & extremely difficult, and basically unfair for the church to have to defend a claim as old, stale and uncorroborated as this one," said James Stapleton, the diocese's lawyer. "The priest in question has been dead since 1988 and many of the potential witnesses are either dead or too elderly to recall much of anything about events at that time. "There is no evidence of sexual abuse in Father Fletcher's record and no prior complaints of this nature were ever made against him until Ms. Fila's recent complaint."
Fletcher served as the first pastor of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in Shelton from 1964 to 1968. He later taught anthropology and sociology at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield and chaired the university's cultural affairs committee. He also authored several books. He died in April 1988.
Fila, now 48 years old, lives in San Diego.
Her lawyer, Linda Neale Monaco, of Branford, said the abuse by Fletcher has continued to haunt her client.
"She was a 7-year-old girl who was pulled out of classes by this priest so that he could sexually abuse her," Monaco said. She said they had previously attempted to settle the case with the diocese, but both sides were too far apart. "We are now prepared to let a jury decide the case," she said.
Stapleton said that when Fila first brought her complaint to the diocese, Bishop William Lori offered to meet with her, but the offer was not accepted.
"We investigated the accusation as thoroughly as possible, mindful of the fact that Father Fletcher is deceased and there are no witnesses to the alleged incident."
Stapleton added that the diocese declined to pay Fila to settle the claim.
According to the lawsuit, one day during fall 1964, as Fila was standing outside the school dusting erasers, Fletcher asked her to accompany him on a walk. They were walking toward the convent when, she said, Fletcher suddenly had Fila get on her knees and molested her.
Fila was crying and her knees were bloody from kneeling on the gravel but Fletcher ordered her to return to class, telling her no one would believe her if she told what he had done to her, the lawsuit said.
It continued that Fletcher would often come to Fila's classroom and take her to his office, where he sexually assaulted her. The suit contended the nuns at the school were aware what the priest was doing but kept silent.
The suit stated that later, whenever Fila would see Fletcher, she would vomit and have to leave the room.
The diocese has paid out nearly $40 million to dozens of people who claimed they were abused as children by 27 priests since the 1960s.
Stapleton said the case "is a clear illustration of the basic unfairness of Connecticut's statute of limitations dealing with claims of sexual abuse of minors."
He said three to six years has been a customary time frame for tort claims. "Nevertheless, the Connecticut Legislature has seen fit to totally frustrate that purpose by the extension of the statute of limitations in Connecticut for these particular claims for as long as 48 years."
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