Priest Served after Abuse Alleged

By Brian Scheid
Norwich (CT) Bulletin
March 13, 2002

Claiming it did everything it could to prevent the alleged molestation of a 9-year-old boy, the Diocese of Norwich wants to be released from a sexual-abuse lawsuit filed nearly two years ago against a former East Lyme priest.

According to paperwork filed with the Norwich Superior Court Monday, however, the priest served in Cromwell and Middletown parishes for more than four years after he admitted to the diocese that he molested a high school student in the early 1970s.

In June 1999, Richard T. Buongirno, 58, a former parish priest of the diocese who served most recently at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Middletown, was arrested on charges that he sexually abused the 9-year-old beginning in 1990, when Buongirno was the pastor of St. Matthias Church in East Lyme.

In 2000, under the pseudonym John Doe, he filed a lawsuit against Buongirno. The diocese was named as a co-defendant in the suit.

Joseph Sweeney, the lawyer representing the diocese, claimed the diocese should not be held responsible for Buongirno's alleged misconduct because he acted outside his role as a priest. Sweeney also said the diocese did everything it could to prevent the alleged molestation.

"The diocese is very responsible and diligent in this area and we've tried very hard to live up to our responsibilities," Sweeney said.

In 1991, when the plaintiff's mother first informed the state Department of Children and Families of the alleged molestation, DCF found the complaint unsubstantiated, Sweeney said.

Sweeney argued his case in a motion by the diocese for summary judgment in Norwich Superior Court Monday, claiming Buongirno was given a thorough psychological evaluation before he was ordained in the Norwich Diocese in May 1984.

Buongirno, who was tested in 1982 by Dr. Joseph A. Horton, a clinical psychologist, showed no signs of mental illness or sexual deviancy, according to Horton's report.

"Candidate has a very definite heterosexual identity although he possesses a tinge of effeminacy in his behavior," Horton wrote. "There is no concern or problem with homosexuality."

According to paperwork filed by Sweeney Monday, Buongirno served as associate pastor at St. Joseph's Church in New London in 1984 and St. Mary's Church in Portland in 1986, where he met and befriended the plaintiff and his family.

He served as pastor of St. Philip the Apostle Church in Warrenville in 1988, became pastor at St. Matthias Church in East Lyme in 1990 and served as pastor at St. John's Church in Old Saybrook in 1993.

In 1994, Edward Redmond of Cohasset, Mass., came to the Norwich diocese claiming that Buongirno had molested him on several occasions while he was a student at St. Thomas More School in Colchester. Buongirno was a teacher there at the time, but not a priest or seminarian.

According to the paperwork filed by Sweeney, Bishop Daniel P. Reilly met with Buongirno in late March 1994, shortly after Redmond's allegations surfaced.

"Father Buongirno admitted both knowing Mr. Redmond and the alleged acts," Reilly wrote in 1994. "He said this took place at a time when he was confused about his own sexuality."

Reilly removed Buongirno from his pastoral post at St. John's in Old Saybrook and arranged for an evaluation consultation between Buorgirno and Dr. Richard M. Bridburg, director of consultation service at the Institute of Living in Hartford.

According to Sweeney's records, Buorgirno was treated at the Institute for Living for the next five months and the diocese placed him as a parochial vicar at St. John's Church in Cromwell in September 1994. He later held the same position at St. Francis of Assisi in 1995 until his 1999 arrest when he resigned.

Robert Reardon, the lawyer representing John Doe, could not be reached for comment.

The case was continued until April 2, Sweeney said.


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