Egan Resources – April 14–19, 2002
By Daniel Tepfer email@example.com
Bridgeport - The resolution of a case involving a priest accused of sexual abuse raises doubts about Cardinal Edward M. Egan's recent statements that he acted swiftly and decisively when confronted with such charges in the Bridgeport diocese.
Potential contradictions with Egan's stated policy surface in the manner and timing of the diocese's handling of the case of Rev. Walter Coleman, who was allowed to continue working in his position for more than a year after the diocese began investigating him.
The details of Coleman's case buttress charges brought by families of victims of sexual abuse that the diocese, under Egan's leadership, engaged in a pattern of covering up its investigations, settling quietly out of court and shifting suspected priests to other assignments or allowing them to slip into retirement.
Coleman, accused and investigated by the diocese for sexual abuse in 1994, continued working until the diocese settled a lawsuit against him in 1995. He was then allowed to retire and moved only a few miles to Milford, where he worked at a church and parochial school in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
Coleman was not suspended from his Milford job until Oct. 1995, when the Connecticut Post confronted church authorities with the resolution of the sex abuse case.
Egan, according to court documents, had authorized the court settlement in June 1995. A month after that, Coleman was allowed to retire for "health reasons."
In a pastoral letter distributed in the Archdiocese of New York three weeks ago, Egan defended his handling of sex-abuse cases involving priests during his 12 years as bishop of Bridgeport.
Egan, who left Bridgeport to take over the New York archdiocese in May 2000, wrote that he had instituted a policy in Bridgeport that "any clergy accused of sexual misconduct with a minor was, after preliminary diocesan investigation, to be sent immediately to one of the most prominent psychiatric institutions in the nation for evaluation."
The letter was written in response to questions about a series of abuse cases handled during Egan's tenure in Bridgeport. Some of the victims and their lawyers claim that Egan either refused to acknowledge the problem and, in some instances, tried to conceal it.
Court documents show, at least in the Coleman case, Egan's stated procedures apparently did not apply.
In 1995, the Bridgeport law firm of Tremont and Sheldon brought a lawsuit against the diocese on behalf of a man who claimed Coleman had sexually molested him between 1978 and 1980 when the man was 11 years old and Coleman was assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Bridgeport.
The suit claimed Coleman, who now is 69, was also having an affair with the boy's mother at the time and, in fact, Bridgeport land records show that Coleman and the single mother bought a house on Lindley Street in 1978 for $38,000. Milford land records show they also purchased a Beach Avenue house together on June 1, 1982.
In March 1985, the woman sued Coleman at Superior Court in Milford, claiming he failed to honor their agreement to live as husband and wife.
Court documents show that diocese officials were aware in 1985 that Coleman had purchased a home with the mother.
At a hearing in Superior Court in Bridgeport on Sept. 2, 1998, Monsignor Laurence Bronkiewicz, the diocese's Episcopal vicar for clergy, testified that church officials first learned about the abuse in March 1994. He said the accusation was investigated and found to have merit.
Nonetheless, diocese documents show Coleman continued to work as a priest, serving from 1993 to 1995 at St. Margaret Mary Church in Shelton.
On June 26, 1995, Egan signed an agreement to settle the man's lawsuit in the Coleman case, paying the victim an undisclosed amount of money to settle the lawsuit, according to the document obtained by the Connecticut Post.
Even after the agreement was signed, Coleman still worked briefly as a chaplain at St. Joseph Manor in Trumbull before retiring in July 1995 for "health reasons," diocesan official stated at the time.
But a short time later, Coleman turned up at St. Ann's Church on Naugatuck Avenue in Milford, and also taught at the parish's school.
St. Ann's Church is in the Hartford archdiocese and, at the time, church officials there said they assumed Coleman had permission from the Bridgeport diocese to work there. They said they had never been notified he was accused of abuse.
When the Connecticut Post confronted church officials in late October 1995 about Coleman working in Milford, they immediately suspended him.
"It's an old story and a settlement was reached," said Joseph McAleer, a spokesman for the Bridgeport diocese.
In an ironic footnote to the Coleman case, the mother of Coleman's victim visited Deerfield, Fla., in 1996 with her new husband and attended Mass at the local Catholic church.
She said that during the Mass the pastor announced that a new priest had begun ministering at the church -- Father Walter Coleman.
The woman said she was shocked to hear Coleman's name and after the service approached the pastor to determine if it was the same Father Coleman accused of abusing her son and with whom she had an affair and bought two houses.
"Oh, yes," she recalled the pastor telling her, Coleman "had come from Bridgeport where he recently retired."
The woman said she then told the pastor about the abuse case involving Coleman and her son.
Court documents show that the Archdiocese of Miami subsequently wrote a letter to the Bridgeport diocese inquiring about Coleman, and received a reply stating that Coleman had been suspended.
Coleman was dismissed by the Florida church and his whereabouts are currently unknown.
Other complaints of abuse against Coleman were included in the $15 million settlement last year the Diocese of Bridgeport made with more than 20 people who claimed they had been abused by priests in the diocese since the 1970s.
Egan ended his recent two-page pastoral letter with the vow that he is "totally and unconditionally committed to protecting our children from abuse of any kind."
Daniel Tepfer, who covers state courts and law enforcement issues, can be reached at 330-6308.
As each week passes, new revelations of sexual abuse of children by clergy continue to rock the Roman Catholic Church. The church's flock, rightly feeling betrayed, is angry, hurt and outraged by this continuing news of official cover-up and mishandling of sex-abusing priests in many dioceses over decades.
Now is time for the church to acknowledge the problem squarely, something it has refused to do for years, and take drastic action. The church can start by reforming its leadership -- its bishops and cardinals who preside over dioceses -- and elevating a new generation firmly committed to church teachings and ministry, and not beholden to protecting the temporal institution through a culture of silence and secrecy.
Reports of covering up for sex-abusing priests in many dioceses distress the faithful across the nation, but especially in our own Diocese of Bridgeport when it was headed by now Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York. For nine years the Connecticut Post reported on allegations of abuse and printed the limited official response and denials.
Now, the whole truth begins to emerge. Egan, among the highest-ranking cardinals in America, did not act decisively in Diocese of Bridgeport cases. These were crimes that should have been brought to the attention of law-enforcement officials and prosecutors.
No institution wants to air its dirty linen in public, but anyone who has reason to believe anyone is committing crimes against children must, legally as well as moraly, tell police.
Egan and church leaders throughout America now are embattled, spending more time explaining themselves, their actions and inaction, than tending to the church's mission.
Their guilt or innocence is irrelevant at this point. They are seriously impairing the functioning of the Roman Catholic Church in America and impeding reforms it must make.
American Catholics agree. A Quinnipiac University poll of Catholics released late last week found that 70 percent of those polled say bishops involved in the sex abuse scandals should resign. Fortunately, 83 percent say their faith remains strong despite the scandals.
Unfortunately, the scandal has tainted the good works of most priests within the church's 18,500 parishes in America. The vast majority of priests are dedicated, selfless and deeply spiritual men carrying out church teachings and serving as community role models.
The church's reluctance to directly confront the problem of sex-abusing priests has failed them as well as millions of parishioners and society in general.
The Roman Catholic Church in America must set about to reform itself, tending first to the needs and concerns of those it has victimized, then finding a new generation of leadership that can put it, as shepherd, in better touch with its flock.
That transformation can begin with the resignation of Egan and any other church leaders who failed to act against sexual abuse in the church.
It is the ultimate act of leadership, as well as atonement.
By Greg Gittrich with Tamer El-Ghobashy and Gretchen E. Weber
A growing sex abuse scandal in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., continued to haunt Edward Cardinal Egan yesterday as he was blamed for failing to adequately punish a priest accused of molesting a boy.
As bishop of the Bridgeport Diocese, Egan did not immediately remove the Rev. Walter Coleman after the church found merit in abuse charges levied against him in 1994, the Connecticut Post reported yesterday.
[Photo Caption - Hounded: Paper in Bridgeport, Conn., where Edward Cardinal Egan served as bishop, called for his resignation yesterday. Photo by Ron Antonelli.]
The story in the Bridgeport paper was the latest to put Egan - who took over the Archdiocese of New York two years ago - on the defensive.
On Friday, charges surfaced that he protected a clergyman who had impregnated a teenage girl, and earlier had sealed court records that claimed he chose not to notify authorities of sex abuse by Connecticut priests.
According to yesterday's report, Egan allowed Coleman to continue working for more than a year after charges against him had been substantiated.
Coleman retired for "health reasons" only after Egan agreed to pay the victim an undisclosed amount to settle a lawsuit, the Connecticut Post reported. Report contradicts Egan Coleman then temporarily got a job at a parish school in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
But he reportedly never was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation - despite Egan's claim in a letter to the New York Archdiocese last month that he required psychiatric exams "in every instance" that a cleric was accused of sexual misconduct.
In an accompanying editorial, the Connecticut Post called for Egan's resignation, saying he mishandled sex abuse allegations in Bridgeport.
The 77,000 circulation paper, owned by Media News Group of Denver, said the church "must set about to reform itself . . ."
"That transformation can begin with the resignation of Egan and any other church leaders who failed to act against sexual abuse in the church," the editorial stated.
It's 'an old story'
New York Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling rejected the editorial and declined to comment on the Coleman case.
His counterpart in Bridgeport, spokesman Joseph McAleer, said the case was "an old story and a settlement was reached."
The lawsuit filed against the diocese in 1995 claimed Coleman molested an 11-year-old boy between 1978 and 1980 when he was assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Bridgeport. It also contended he was having an affair with the boy's mother.
At St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, L.I., worshipers expressed support yesterday for Bishop William Murphy.
Suffolk County prosecutors revealed last week that they are investigating the Rockville Centre Diocese for allegedly covering up sex abuse cases.
By Andrea Rubin
The woman who said she was abused by a former Sloatsburg priest was only 16 when her nearly three-year relationship with the cleric began, her attorney said yesterday.
John Zarcone, a Putnam Valley lawyer representing the woman, said the victim was a 16-year-old student at Franciscan High School in Mohegan Lake when her affair began with the Rev. John Gallant. The attorney said top church officials knew about the relationship a year ago.
"You have a priest who's an adult figure who's taking advantage of a 16-year-old," Zarcone said yesterday. "She ended it Jan. 1, '81."
Zarcone said his client told him that Gallant had wanted to marry her.
Gallant told parishioners he was removed from St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church in Sloatsburg earlier this month because of information the Archdiocese of New York released to the Manhattan District Attorney.
Gallant, who could not be reached last night for comment, said from the pulpit he had been accused of sexual impropriety with an 18-year-old woman 22 years ago. He said he had "never abused a minor boy or girl in my entire life."
Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling would not go into details yesterday of Gallant's situation.
"I have not commented on the specifics about anyone," Zwilling said, "only that we asked him to leave the parish because of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor."
Gallant's attorney, Patrick Burke of Suffern, could not be reached last night for comment.
The woman is speaking now, Zarcone said yesterday, because she was upset to hear Gallant claim he did nothing wrong. She also was upset when she read that parishioners held a candlelight vigil for the priest.
"She had actually left it alone. It wasn't until he started with his lies," Zarcone said. "She was tolerating it when she read about the candlelight vigil in The Journal News. That's what drove her off the deep end."
Zarcone said the woman approached him last year and contacted church officials to set up a meeting involving herself, him, Gallant, Bishop James McCarthy and a monsignor. The meeting took place April 23, 2001, Zarcone said, after the criminal and civil statute of limitations had expired.
"I do not know anything about that meeting one way or the other," Zwilling said yesterday.
McCarthy acknowledged last night that the meeting took place. He declined to comment on specifics of the meeting, saying he wanted to protect the woman's privacy. He did, however, say his participation in the meeting was not on behalf of the archdiocese. He said the archdiocese was represented by the monsignor.
"There was no question in that instance that I was not representating the archdiocese; I was a pastor that she came to," he said.
"When someone comes to me in a confessional situation, it is confidential," said McCarthy, who was celebrating Mass last night in Croton-on-Hudson.
The woman's lawyer said he had proof that Gallant admitted to the relationship at the meeting.
"It was a cordial meeting," Zarcone said. At the meeting, the attorney said, Gallant apologized to the woman. The meeting satisfied her, he said, because church officials now knew about her.
McCarthy said that if he were representing the archdiocese at last year's meeting, it would have been his duty to speak out and act against the accused priest.
"If they come to me as representative of archdiocese, it absolutely has to be done," he said. "This was not the situation."
Zarcone said his client originally attempted to tell church officials about the affair when she was in high school. "Nobody believed her," he said.
Zarcone said the woman, who is married and has children, was no longer involved in the church.
"Right now she's devastated again," he said. "She was going on nearly 20 years of people not believing her. She has very little trust."
By Heidi Evans
While he was a priest, Edward Pipala sexually molested as many as 50 boys at several parishes in the Archdiocese of New York. But after eight years in prison, the defrocked cleric doesn't believe he's a pedophile.
"I've been mislabeled. I'm not a pedophile," Pipala told the Daily News in an interview outside the Mount Vernon auto body shop where he works.
"When you are arrested in a psychosexual crime, you can grow out of that. I acted like I was a teenager. That was my problem. You know, psychosexual. And that can be treated. And thank God, I got the treatment."
In 1993, the 63-year-old ex-priest pleaded guilty to federal and state charges of sodomy and sex abuse while he was the pastor at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Goshen, a close-knit, bucolic town about 60 miles north of New York City, in Orange County.
Pipala admitted to creating a secret parish club called The Hole in which he provided alcohol to boys as young as 12 and engaged in sex acts.
According to court records, Pipala showered attention on impressionable kids, teaching them to drink and smoke in his rectory and often taking them to a condo in Seaside Heights, N.J. Membership in the club, he warned his victims, was based on loyalty, trust and silence.
'Almost killed' in prison
At his sentencing, Pipala's lawyer said his client was filled with remorse. But these days the ex-priest isn't convinced he should have gone to prison.
"Did I belong in jail? Half and half," said Pipala, who also lives in Mount Vernon. "I was assaulted in jail, almost killed. I think there are a lot of good people who have problems."
Pipala declined to discuss the church's response to the current pedophilia scandal.
"I have a good life right now. I like to try to keep it low-key," said Pipala, looking healthy in blue jeans and neatly pressed workshirt as he hauled out trash from the auto body shop.
Asked whether the church could have done more to help priests like him or to stop them from harming children, Pipala said, "I do have feelings about it, but I can't express them right now. ... There's a lot going on, but my lawyer's advice is to be low-key. ... I'm still in a position with a lot of political enemies. I'm just making my new life now, there are people who are supporting me, I have a job."
While Pipala has moved on with his life since he was released from a federal penitentiary in July 2000, he left a trail of psychological devastation in an upstate town that cannot forget his crimes.
"I'm glad his life's okay," said one Goshen man in his 20s who was victimized by Pipala starting at age 12. "Because everyone else's is -- up."
The man's father told The News, "My son was just a normal kid before. It has just devastated him. Therapy has not really helped."
The father, whose name The News is withholding for privacy, said two of his son's friends - including a boy with whom he played Little League - were also altar boys abused by Pipala. He said the boys are now dead from drugs and alcoholism - which he believes stemmed from the abuse.
"Sometimes I feel like I would like to smash him," the father said of the former priest.
A national authority on the subject of pedophilia, Dr. Fred Berlin of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said he was troubled by Pipala's view of his past behavior.
"It sounds like he is interpreting his behavior as due to immaturity rather than a psychiatric disorder, and that he can grow out of it," said Berlin, a psychiatrist who has also been a consultant to the eight-year-old National Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on sex abuse. "In most cases, this is not a problem people outgrow."
Berlin added, "Given this man's prior pattern of behavior, I would be concerned that there is some degree of risk that he'll do it again."
According to court documents, Pipala continued to write to some of his victims even as he was in long-term treatment at St. Luke's Institute, a psychiatric hospital in Maryland where the church sent him in 1992.
In Goshen, recent disclosures about sexually abusive priests and the Catholic Church's efforts to protect them have brought the anger and pain of a decade ago back to the surface, said some people.
"The memories come flooding back," said Linda Mabie, who owns Linda's Office Supplies on Main St. "It is still painful when you think of those poor boys. You would hope the church would rout people like Pipala out before they do such harm instead of keeping them hidden."
Shirley Hadden, who has worked in Goshen for 56 years and knows some families that were affected, said, "It tore this little village apart. Those kids' lives are affected forever. A lot of people I know left the church."
Marc Orloff, a local lawyer who represented several Goshen victims and their families, said Pipala was "an ingratiating charmer who was very good with the parents.
"His genius was his ability to figure out which kids to pick on and which kids to avoid. It was like he had a special radar for this."
Law enforcement authorities said Pipala targeted teens who came from single-parent households, or ones he believed would not resist him.
"By the time he got control over you, it was too late," recounted one young man in court documents. "I felt like I was trapped. ... If you said anything, something [terrible] would happen to you."
The man, who was 15 at the time Pipala molested him, said he suffers from depression, anxiety and alcoholism.
Pipala, the son of Polish immigrants, was ordained in 1966. His first assignment was at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, where he taught English until 1975. For the next two years, he taught at Moore Catholic High School in Staten Island.
It was there, in 1977, that the mother of a teenage student told archdiocesan officials that Pipala had sexually abused her son.
The archdiocese sent Pipala, then 38, for psychological counseling and welcomed him back. The priest began his secret sex club while he was assistant pastor and youth minister at Sacred Heart Church in Monroe, Orange County, where he served from 1981 to 1988.
Pipala wanted his own parish, records show, and in 1988 John Cardinal O'Connor installed him as pastor at St. John's, where he continued the club. He was arrested in 1992 after a parent complained to police.
After his sentencing, Orange County District Attorney Francis Phillips said, "Eight years [in prison] may not be enough. Eighty years may not be enough."
Yet the archdiocese continued to support the disgraced clergyman. O'Connor dispatched one of his aides to attend Pipala's sentencing.
The cardinal also tried to appease upset parishioners by authorizing a diocesan committee composed of psychologists, priests, parents and a victim counselor to draft a procedure for handling complaints about abuse by priests.
Joseph Brown, Pipala's former criminal defense lawyer and a longtime member of St. John's, said the panel "was a total waste of time. Right after the Pipala matter, I attended meetings with Cardinal O'Connor about this panel. I never heard anything about it afterward. I think it was just on paper and in press releases."
Brown said he had an eerie sense of the past repeating itself when he read of Edward Cardinal Egan's new policy to launch a similar panel to screen cases of sexual abuse by priests before turning their names over to police.
"No prosecutor will go along with what Egan proposed," said Brown, a devout Catholic who also served as Orange County's district attorney from 1982 to '86. "The door has to be opened. There can be no more hiding, no more stonewalling."
Pipala's successor at St. John's, the Rev. Richard Adams, said his heart still breaks for the victims in his parish. It has taken 10 years to regain the congregation's trust and to bring families back into the fold, he said.
"The scars are still there," Adams said. "I don't think it can go away. It's like the death of someone you care about. ... It's with you. It's, 'How do you live with it?'"
[Photo Captions - Edward Pipala, 63, was shipped to prison in 1993 for sexually abusing dozens of boys while serving as pastor at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church (r.) in Orange County. Rectory where Edward Pipala welcomed boys while he was pastor from 1988-92 at St. John's in upstate Goshen. The Rev. Richard Adams, successor to Pipala at St. John's says it's taken 10 years to regain worshippers' trust. Photos by Howard Simmons.]
By Blair Craddock
The woman who told Catholic church officials she had a two-year affair with the Rev. John Gallant as a teen-ager said yesterday that pain, anger and lingering shame were the legacy of the relationship.
Gallant, the pastor of St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church in Sloatsburg, was abruptly removed from his ministry in early April by the Archdiocese of New York on allegations of sexual misconduct.
At Sunday Mass on April 7, the departing priest told parishioners that the only allegation against him was from a woman who was 18 at the time, not from a minor.
But now, his accuser has come forward to say she was 16, under the age of consent, when the relationship started,
"I can understand his need to say he's not a pedophile," said the woman, whose name is being withheld by The Journal News. The newspaper's policy is not to name the victims in sex-related cases. "And he's not a pedophile."
But nonetheless, she said, she was underage, and the relationship was wrong.
The woman said yesterday that she decided to come forward only after her efforts to seek reconciliation with the church failed. Gallant's attorney, Patrick Burke, declined yesterday to comment on the matter.
The relationship began in 1978, the woman said. She was a senior at Franciscan High School in Mohegan Lake, where Gallant taught a reel-to-reel video editing elective, as well as religion class.
"It was gradual," she said of how the relationship began. Gallant offered her rides home from school and would give her a hug and kiss on the cheek as she got out of the car.
But bit by bit, she said, the hugs became less platonic.
"At first, I wondered if I'd misunderstood," she said. "But then it became clear I hadn't."
Gradually, she said, the relationship progressed to sex in late 1978, shortly before her 17th birthday. Under New York law, the age of consent is 17.
Gallant got the woman her first job after graduation, as a camp counselor. The relationship continued, and in November 1980, she said, he drove her to Bear Mountain State Park and told her he'd talked to his spiritual adviser about the relationship and was considering leaving the priesthood if she would marry him.
That was what led her to break off the relationship, she said: the realization that "his intention was for the relationship to go on forever, but that was not my intention."
She was too young, and the relationship made her too uncomfortable, she said, and it always had.
"There was never an act of overt aggression," she said.
But, she said, she couldn't figure out how to say no to him, or break up.
"I wanted to find a way out that wouldn't be damaging," she said. She sought advice, she said, but the people she turned to wouldn't believe her.
"He was a priest," she said. "He had the power. ... The relationship existed because he had power, and I didn't."
She said she finally broke up with him on New Year's Day 1981. He had come to her parents' house for dinner, she said, with his brother. She walked them to their car.
"I told him to stop focusing his attention on me," she said. "To focus on his brother," because he and his brother were family.
In the following years, she married and had children. She went to college, then to graduate school. But she found she could not go back to church.
"My experience stood in stark contrast to what was being preached," she said. "I'd sit in church, or read Catholic publications. And I'd hear or read things that were not necessarily true. ... I couldn't just sit and listen, knowing that I knew this horrible truth" that not all priests were what they were said to be.
And so, she said, she walked away from the church that had once been a source of consolation to her.
But she felt the loss of her religion strongly, and in early 2001 she decided to try one more time to reconcile.
"I contacted Bishop McCarthy," she said. "I told him my story."
Bishop James McCarthy, vicar of Northern Westchester and Putnam counties, asked her permission to contact Monsignor George Thompson, the archdiocese's personnel director in charge of priests, about Gallant. She gave permission, she said.
After that, she said, Thompson arranged for a meeting on April 23, 2001, at the office of Priest Personnel in Dunwoodie. With McCarthy and Thompson present, she said, Gallant apologized. McCarthy has confirmed that the meeting took place.
Finally, she said, "I felt vindicated." She could stop feeling the anger that came from being believed by nobody.
"I was believed," she said. That brought her peace.
But almost a year later, she said, Gallant was removed from his parish, and community members held a candlelight vigil. Many of them said they believed Gallant, and not his accuser.
Now, she feels disbelieved and angry all over again.
It didn't have to happen this way, she said.
"It could have been so simple," she said. "If John Gallant had said nothing, the D.A. would have reviewed the case, said it's 22 years old, and it would have gone away."
She'd rather that Gallant had said nothing, she said, or if he had simply said, "I made some mistakes, but I'm human."
Thompson, who is no longer head of the Office of Priest Personnel, did not return a phone message.
Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the archdiocese, said Thompson left that position voluntarily early this month and is now a parish priest. He said church sexual-misconduct policies requiring priests' removal for sex allegations were not yet in effect in April last year.
About Gallant, Zwilling would say only that he "was removed from his parish due to an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor" and that he had no current assignment with the archdiocese.
Gallant's accuser said recent events had cast her back into spiritual turmoil.
"I feel remarkably sad now that all this has been revisited," she said. "There's no winner here, no winner at all."
By Robert Ingrassia
The escalating child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church may be ensnaring innocent priests who were wrongly accused of sexual misconduct decades ago, church leaders and experts said yesterday.
Bishops across the country have been combing through files in recent weeks and giving prosecutors lists of priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children.
In New York and Long Island, church officials said they turned over all allegations dating back as far as four decades - including some accusations that were investigated at the time and found to be untrue or unsubstantiated.
Officials with the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island said that any active priests on their lists were put on leave pending the outcome of any criminal investigations.
"It's possible there have been people removed who are innocent," said Joanne Novarro, a spokeswoman for the Rockville Centre Diocese. "That's why we're being so very careful about keeping the list confidential."
Novarro said the diocese suspended "fewer than two dozen" priests. Only two suspended priests have been publicly identified. A third accused priest retired weeks before allegations against him surfaced.
The New York Archdiocese gave prosecutors a list of about three dozen priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors. It suspended six priests. Also, several former archdiocese priests now serving in other dioceses have been put on leave, said archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling.
Zwilling said the archdiocese forwarded all allegations, no matter how minor, to prosecutors. "We acknowledge that many of them were old and that many of them were not substantiated," Zwilling said. "But if there was an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, that information was shared with the district attorney."
The Brooklyn Diocese, which serves Brooklyn and Queens, found about 35 cases dating back 20 years - and turned over the first 15 to prosecutors last week.
Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Daily suspended every active priest on the list, but spokesman Frank DeRosa would not say how many were put on leave.
One priest on the list, the Rev. James Collins, continued serving as chaplain at Bishop Kearney High School in Bensonhurst until Tuesday, when Daily put him on leave.
The New York area dioceses, like others around the country, turned over their lists under mounting pressure from law enforcement authorities.
Such a rapid housecleaning is bound to drive out some innocent priests, said Leo Sandon, a religion professor at Florida State University.
"Priests involved in borderline cases of abuse are being treated the same as convicted pedophiles," he said. "That's one unfortunate consequence of the church having such a bad policy of secrecy for so many years."
In the crisis atmosphere gripping the church, diocese officials are reluctant to screen abuse allegations, according to Michael Hurley, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"The church wants to be as open as possible," he said. "In a case where there's an accusation that couldn't be proven or was not even true, it's a tragedy for those priests."
By Daniel Tepfer firstname.lastname@example.org
Bridgeport - Although Diocese of Bridgeport officials confirm that Monsignor Gregory Smith has admitted sexually abusing two teen-age girls in the late 1960s and '70s, he continues to work at a local church and Sacred Heart University.
In an interview Thursday with the Connecticut Post, Bishop William E. Lori contended that his decision to keep Smith in active service is not a violation of the diocese's sexual-abuse policy.
Peggy Fry of Monroe, who says she was abused by Smith as a teen-ager, says she has waited more than 30 years for justice.
But she says she didn't get it after meeting recently with Lori. After a story about her case appeared in the Post last month, Lori agreed to meet with the Monroe woman and her husband on March 25 at the Catholic Center.
At that meeting, Fry said Lori told her he had met with Smith, now at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish on Ortega Street, and that Smith admitted abusing not only Fry, but another girl at St. Teresa's Church in Trumbull in the 1960s and '70s.
"He said Monsignor Smith was very repentant, tearful and Bishop Lori suggested that I have a private meeting with Smith in which he would apologize to me," Fry said. "It would be behind closed doors."
On Thursday, Lori said Smith was suspended in 1997 after allegations were made in a lawsuit that he had abused Fry. Smith was then sent for psychiatric evaluation, the bishop said. "And the evaluation came back that it was OK for him to go back into ministry," he added. "The diocese's policy does not say no priest will never be restored for any reason."
Asked if he is certain that Smith is not a danger to other teen-agers, the bishop retorted, "We are not talking about pedophilia here, we are talking about people who were very near attaining the age of majority and, while that kind of behavior is never appropriate, I don't have evidence of a string of victims."
Fry said that during her meeting with Lori she told the bishop a private apology would not be adequate.
"I felt this was just perpetuating the sins of the past," she said. "I want people to know that Smith has admitted what he had done to me, that I have not been making it up all these years."
Two days after the meeting, Fry wrote a letter to Lori stating she wanted Smith laicized -- a liturgical term meaning that his priestly powers are revoked -- with a full public apology and admission of guilt by Smith.
She said she also wants former Bridgeport Bishop Edward M. Egan, now the cardinal of the Archdiocese of New York, and Monsignor William Genuario to publicly admit their alleged roles in covering up her abuse.
Fry said she told Genuario about the abuse at least 10 years ago, when Egan was bishop of the Bridgeport diocese, and the other girl told him in 1969, when she was abused.
Fry said she insisted on setting up another meeting with the bishop to address her demands. On April 8, Fry and her husband and the other woman who said she was abused by Smith met with the bishop and Monsignor Laurence Bronkiewicz, the diocesan Episcopal vicar, at the Catholic Center.
At this meeting, the other woman told her story of abuse at the hands of Smith. Fry said she then asked Lori if he would respond to her letter.
"He told me with this additional information he was not prepared to respond to me at this time. He had to do a thorough investigation. He said, I do have a diocese to run,' " according to Fry.
On April 14, she said she spoke to Bronkiewicz by telephone and he reiterated that Smith had admitted abusing her and the other woman, but that the investigation was still taking place.
In the meantime, Smith continues to work at Our Lady of Good Counsel and SHU, a diocesan institution, where he is listed as director of religious education and pastoral studies.
As to Fry's claims that she had told Genuario about the abuse more than a decade ago, the bishop said, "We should have made outreach to Peg and a lot of people a long time ago. I'm very sorry we didn't make outreach to Peg or anyone else."
Fry, who claims she was molested by Smith when she was 16 and 17, was a member of the youth group at St. Theresa's Church in Trumbull.
Raised in a devout Catholic family, Fry said her mother encouraged her to go on trips and to spend time with Smith.
"She often said God had picked me because Monsignor Smith wanted to spend time with me," she said.
Fry said that when she later complained to Genuario about the alleged abuse, he told her to pray for forgiveness.
Daniel Tepfer, who covers state courts and law enforcement issues, can be reached at 330-6308.
By Gary Stern, Noreen O’Donnell, and Bruce Golding
It has been 21 years since Joseph Theisen left St. Gregory's Church in Garnerville, 15 years since the former pastor was first accused of sexual abuse, and eight years since he was defrocked, stripped of his status as a representative of Christ.
He is a largely forgotten figure at St. Gregory's, as he is at St. Raymond's Church in the Bronx, Theisen's last assignment before the Archdiocese of New York learned that he was more predator than priest.
Theisen's case was recently revived when dozens of old case files were handed over to district attorneys by the archdiocese.
But the allegations against Theisen are too old to prosecute, making them meaningless.
Except to the victims who are still suffering.
"Theisen is a monster," said the mother of one Rockland victim who reached a $20,000 settlement with the archdiocese in 1994. "He was our priest, our friend. He made a fool out of us. But my son's been victimized twice, first by Theisen, then by the archdiocese. These are smart men, but they don't care what happened to my son. They were more concerned with their image and their status than this poor boy."
Rockland County District Attorney Michael Bongiorno, who received information about Theisen from the archdiocese two weeks ago, declined to comment for this article. But he said recently that, "Our ability to investigate these cases is severely hampered by the passing of time."
Spurred by national scandal, Cardinals Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., and William Keeler of Baltimore, two of the American archbishops who will meet next week in Rome with Pope John Paul II, proposed this week that all dioceses be required to report future allegations against priests to civil authorities.
In the meantime, old cases continue to haunt the church. Documents obtained by The Journal News, which detail Theisen's abuse of the Rockland man when he was between the ages of 15 and 18, answer some of the key questions about past cases of sexual abuse by priests that have plagued the Catholic Church since the current scandal began months ago.
Among them: How have abusive priests used their clerical standing to lure physically maturing, teen-age victims into sexual relationships? How damaging can the long-term effects of abuse be for a victim? And how has a major archdiocese, until very recently, dealt with at least some victims of an abuser?
In the Theisen case, documents show, the Archdiocese of New York dealt with the Rockland man and two others from the county who came forward in 1994 — seven years after the archdiocese first learned of Theisen's misdeeds — by giving each $20,000 in exchange for making them promise not to discuss what happened to them.
Under the settlement, the victim agreed to "not, directly or indirectly, disseminate to the general public any disparaging or damaging information about the Church ... regarding the matters embraced by this Agreement."
Theisen's abuse of the Rockland man, now in his mid-30s, lasted from 1980 to 1984. A 1994 report prepared as part of the settlement by Dr. Alan J. Tuckman, a forensic psychiatrist, explained how Theisen ingrained himself in the victim's family and nurtured the victim's trust, promising an emotional attachment for a vulnerable teen, before gradually introducing sexual acts.
The victim, whose name is being withheld by The Journal News, did not tell his family about the abuse until 1993, well after he had started drinking heavily.
"This is a very classical situation of an adult in a position of authority and power, befriending and then manipulating an impressionable teenager into sexual activity," Tuckman wrote. "(The victim) will need long-term, intensive psychotherapy if he is to ever resolve these problems."
The family's brief contact with the archdiocese did nothing to help the victim cope. He and his mother deeply regret their decision to accept a quick settlement, which they see as nothing more than a payoff to be quiet, and wish they had sued the archdiocese for more money, therapy and a public apology.
Instead, they struggle each day in solitude, sometimes ashamed, sometimes angry, often both. Theisen's victim remains unable to face his past, continues to drink and has difficulty holding a job or maintaining relationships.
Theisen, meanwhile, is now 68 and lives in a luxury apartment building in Albuquerque, N.M., with a heated swimming pool, 24-hour security and a view of the Rio Grande Valley. When approached by a reporter, he would not discuss his past. Asked if he was once a priest, he said, "That was many years ago."
Theisen spent 10 years serving on Staten Island before arriving at St. Gregory's in 1970. He stayed there until 1981, moving on to St. Raymond's in the Bronx. He was still there in 1987, when the archdiocese received its first clear allegation that Theisen had sexually abused a minor, said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese.
Other allegations followed. Before 1987 was up, Theisen was put into a clerical limbo, still a priest but without an assignment from the archdiocese.
He was treated at the Servants of the Paraclete centers in Jemez Springs, N.M., a prominent facility for priests with sexual disorders. He then became a chaplain at the Heartland Center for Spirituality in Great Bend, Kan., a spiritual retreat run by the Dominican Sisters of Great Bend, but stayed for only a short time.
In 1994, Theisen was voluntarily defrocked, a process that often drags out. The process for defrocking a priest against his wishes takes even longer, something that American bishops have asked the Vatican to change as one way to deal with the current scandal.
It was around the same time that Theisen was defrocked that his three victims from Rockland approached the archdiocese.
Zwilling could not say, based on Theisen's old file, whether the initial accusations against the cleric in 1987 stemmed from his time in Staten Island, Garnerville or the Bronx. Since it's unclear to which time period the 1987 accusations referred, it is difficult to determine if Theisen could have merited prosecution had the archdiocese alerted authorities.
It was not until the early 1990s that the archdiocese adopted its first formal policy for dealing with accusations against priests. And it was not until a few years later that the archdiocese began advising accusers that they could seek police involvement on their own.
Only in recent weeks, as the current scandal mushroomed, did Cardinal Edward Egan meet the demands of prosecutors and say that the archdiocese would refer future allegations against priests to police. He also turned over the old files, Theisen's case among them, and removed six priests facing unresolved allegations from their assignments.
These changes, of course, come too late for Theisen's victims. The Rockland victim's mother cannot grasp why the archdiocese is now serious about fighting abuse but dismissed her son's trauma and pain so easily.
The archdiocese offered a settlement that made her son promise never to bring any kind of legal action against the church, and never to discuss the matter with any media.
When the papers were signed, her son was on his own.
"They should be ashamed of themselves," the mother said. "It was just 'Here's a few thousand. Now shut your mouths.' How dare they?"
John Aretakis, a Manhattan lawyer who later tried to get more money for the young man, described the $20,000 settlement as "shut-up money." Aretakis, who has handled some two dozen abuse cases against the Roman Catholic Church, said the money is one way for the church to assuage its guilt.
"So far they're doing a damn good job of keeping all the holes plugged," he said. "Just like the Mafia, they're trying to make sure no one breaks the oath of omerta, that no one rats out the priests."
By Noreen O’Donnell
He was a teen-ager caught in the turbulence of adolescence when he was introduced to the Rev. Joseph L. Theisen.
The 15-year-old had lots of friends, he would later tell a psychiatrist, played lots of sports and performed well enough in school. But his family was not close, he said, nor were they openly affectionate.
"I don't think we did as much together as other families," he said.
The groping began within months, according to the psychiatrist's report, whenever Theisen, then pastor of St. Gregory's Church in Garnerville, engaged him and his friends in wrestling matches.
A year later, in the summer of 1981, the abuse escalated. During a monthlong trip to the beach, the priest had repeated sexual encounters with the teen-ager and his friends.
In 1994, after the young man and two other males confronted the Archdiocese of New York with their complaints against Theisen, the church paid them $20,000 each to compensate them for the abuse. They were told never to speak of the agreement or the abuse.
The following account of how Theisen wove himself into the fabric of one teen-ager's life — taken from documents covering five interviews that Dr. Alan J. Tuckman, a forensic psychiatrist, conducted in 1994 as part of the settlement — provides a portrait of how an adolescent distanced from his family makes a vulnerable target for sexual abusers.
"They look for youngsters who are desperately seeking more adult attention and affection," said David Clohessy, who heads the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "They tend to zero on the children who want more caring adults in their lives."
The victim, who is now in his mid-30s and whose name is being withheld by The Journal News, declined to comment beyond the legal papers obtained by the newspaper.
According to Tuckman's report, the abuse by Theisen took place regularly for about two years, even after Theisen was transferred to another parish in the Bronx. There were rare encounters after the teen-ager went to college. The young man eventually brought an end to the sexual activity, though he still admired the older man.
He sought Theisen's advice on his career and looked forward to their discussions.
"I felt he was a brilliant man with a lot of suggestions on life," he told Tuckman. "He always gave me encouragement, even if I was drinking and not doing well with a job or my life. He always had positive words for me and good feelings about me."
By the time they met in August 1980, Theisen had already known the teen-ager's family for five or six years. They were introduced by an older brother who was friendly with the priest from a softball league. That, too, is typical, Clohessy said.
"Oftentimes, these men ingratiate themselves into the entire family," he said. "They get a feel for whether the child is apt to tell, whether the parents are apt to believe."
Later, when the young man had determined to end any sexual contact with Theisen, he remained acutely aware of how close the priest was to the rest of his family. Theisen drove up from the Bronx to visit them, and the young man took to avoiding his own house when he saw the priest's car parked there.
Years after Theisen had left Rockland, the priest continued to write letters to the teen-ager and regularly spoke to his mother on the telephone.
"My mother would have felt that it was wrong of me," the young man told Tuckman, referring to any attempt he might make to rebuff the priest's friendship.
Abusers frequently try to remain close to their victims long after the abuse ends, Clohessy said. Not only does it decrease the chance that the victim will come to view what happened as abuse, but the abusers are privy to early warnings that their behavior might be revealed — often when someone decides to seek therapy.
The pattern of the young man's seduction also was familiar, said John Aretakis, a Manhattan lawyer who has handled two dozen cases involving sexual abuse and the Roman Catholic Church, and who later represented the young man in a lawsuit.
"The priests have a period of time when they're grooming their victims," he said.
They work to win their victims' confidence, behaving as a trusted peer who lets them have a beer or watch a pornographic videotape. Then they begin wrestling or giving massages, Aretakis said.
"It starts out with mild stuff and goes on to sexual stuff," he said.
By the time the young man spent his month at the beach in the summer of 1981, he had been seeing the priest every week for a year, stopping by the church rectory or the religion classes that Theisen ran.
Sometimes, the priest took out a group of teen-agers, other times the young man alone.
Once at the beach, the group would talk for hours before the priest started playing games with them. Theisen would cloak the sexual intent in claims that he was teaching the young men self-control.
"He would tell you to relax and he would walk his fingers like a spider over your body, telling you that you have to trust him and seeing if you had control," the young man said.
The behavior would turn progressively sexual. At the same time, the young man said he had begun drinking every day.
"I don't know why I let him, but I did," he said. "I had mixed feelings. I didn't feel bad, but afterwards I would wonder if I was gay or what's going on."
At one point, the priest filmed the group; at another, Theisen coerced the young man to perform a sexual act by holding a lighted cigarette near another teen-ager's genitals. After the trip, any sexual activity took place in the priest's car.
The abuse came to have a devastating effect on the young man's relationships with his family, friends, and later, his girlfriend, according to Tuckman's report. Wracked with poor self-esteem, he agonized over why he allowed the abuse to occur and only much later saw the behavior as manipulative.
"He would say that he loves me, and we're such good friends," the young man said of Theisen. "It wasn't love and friendship. It was an adult priest with kids, and that makes me mad."
By Gary Stern and Ernie Garcia
The Rev. John Lennon, a longtime Yonkers pastor and a well-known figure in the city, was one of six priests recently removed from their assignments by the Archdiocese of New York because of past allegations of sexual abuse, The Journal News has learned.
Lennon, 74, a chaplain to the Yonkers Fire Department and a chaplain to the Green Berets during the Vietnam War, left the church during the past two weeks, said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese.
Monsignor Edward O'Donnell, who is filling in as a temporary administrator at St. John the Baptist, said the accusation against Lennon dates back to Lennon's days as a teacher and administrator at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx.
Lennon served at Hayes before being assigned to St. John the Baptist more than a decade ago.
O'Donnell said he would talk to parishioners about Lennon's removal at this weekend's Masses.
O'Donnell said parishioners were not told right away because the archdiocese hoped that the matter would be resolved soon and that Lennon might be able to return.
"We hoped this would be over and done with quickly, based on what we knew of the allegations," O'Donnell said. "It hasn't happened as quickly as we hoped. Once it's turned over to the district attorney, we don't know what their procedures are."
O'Donnell was formerly the head of priest personnel for the archdiocese, in charge of investigating complaints against priests.
A spokesman for Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson declined to comment.
Worshippers leaving St. John the Baptist's noon Mass yesterday were surprised to hear that Lennon had been removed. Parishioner Rosemary Hunt said that she thought Lennon was on vacation.
"I don't know him personally, but he's been decent to me and my family," Hunt said.
Four mothers socializing near the church parochial school's playground were unaware of Lennon's departure and became upset after learning that Lennon was not on vacation, as they believed.
They said they supported Lennon and that they were unaware of any hint of scandal concerning him.
Yonkers Fire Commissioner Peter S. Guyett called Lennon a "wonderful person" and said Lennon called him two weeks ago to say he was leaving for medical reasons.
Anthony Pagano, president of the Yonkers firefighters union, said Lennon called the union last week to say he could not attend an April 13 dinner dance.
"He was always proud to say he was the fire department chaplain, and it showed," Pagano said. "I would never believe that anything like that would be true."
Zwilling would not discuss the specific allegations against Lennon, just as he has not commented on the allegations against the other priests suddenly removed from their assignments during the past two weeks.
The archdiocese also is not saying where the six priests are or whether they might be reassigned after investigations are completed.
Among the other priests pulled from their work were: the Rev. Kenneth Jesselli of Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson; the Rev. Gennaro Gentile, a former pastor at Holy Name of Mary who had been working at the church's marriage annulment office in Poughkeepsie; and the Rev. John Gallant of St. Joan of Arc in Sloatsburg.
Lennon, who holds a doctorate, spent much of the 1970s and early 1980s working as a religion and English teacher and moderator of athletics at Cardinal Hayes High School, where he was a member of the class of 1945.
St. John the Baptist is a large parish in Yonkers, located only blocks from St. Joseph's Seminary.
Last June, Cardinal Edward Egan spoke there to parishioners from across
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