Civil Sex Abuse Suit Filed against Former Norwich Priest

By Associated Press
August 9, 2002

Norwich, CT - The Norwich diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is facing new allegations of sexual misconduct by a priest and accusations that the diocese turned a blind eye to the problem.

Michael Nelligan, 38, has filed a civil suit claiming that former Westbrook priest Bruno Primavera repeatedly molested him when he was a teenage parishioner at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in the 1970s, the Norwich Bulletin reported.

The summons citing Primavera, former Norwich Bishop Daniel P. Reilly and the diocese, was filed in Middletown Superior Court Aug. 5.

The attorney representing Nelligan said Thursday that diocesan officials knew of Primavera's behavior and later sent him to a New Mexico treatment center specializing in treating pedophile priests.

"The church failed to recognize this problem and instead has disregarded it," said Nelligan's attorney, Robert Reardon of New London. "The church has turned a blind eye for too long."

The diocese said Friday it has forwarded the complaint to its lawyer.

"It is important that we respect the legal system and that we allow it to consider this matter in a fair and impartial manner, uninfluenced either by idle speculation or by any premature judgments," the diocese said in a written statement.

The diocese also said it remains committed to providing a safe environment, especially for children, and that it will cooperate with the authorities.

In the complaint, Nelligan, who now lives in Westbrook and Portland, Maine, claims he was 14 when he met Primavera, who was his parish priest.

Nelligan alleges that, for the next two years, Primavera sexually assaulted and battered him, many times while on church property.

He also claims Primavera repeatedly fondled his genitalia, performed oral sex on him, and engaged in other "similar acts" of sexual assault and exploitation.

Since he was abused, Reardon said Nelligan has suffered extensive mental torment and has been treated by a psychologist and psychiatrist for years.

"(Nelligan has) been haunted by this his entire life," Reardon said. "He's undergone psychiatric care and he wasn't capable of coming forward until now."

Primavera is living in New Britain and is no longer a priest, Reardon said. He could not be reached for comment.

The complaint states Bishop Reilly and officials at St. Mark's disregarded several claims Primavera was sexually exploiting children.

The complaint claims Reilly and church officials knew of Primavera's alleged sex crimes, refused to investigate sexual abuse claims, and allowed the priest's illegal behavior to continue.

Reilly served as Norwich's bishop from 1975 before becoming the bishop of the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., in 1994.

Reardon said he talked to Primavera Thursday and said the former priest told him he was sent to Servants of the Paraclete Treatment Center by the diocese and was treated for his alleged acts of sexual abuse.

Former Putnam priest Bernard Bissonnette, who has been accused of molesting scores of boys in Windham County, was also sent to the same New Mexico treatment center in the 1960s, when several child sexual abuse allegations surfaced, court records show.

Nelligan's complaints come on the heels of sweeping reform in the U.S. Catholic Church to address the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

During a meeting of Catholic bishops in Dallas this June, many dioceses and archdioceses, including Norwich, instituted a stricter policy to address sexual abuse claims.

The diocese is named in another sexual abuse suit filed by a man under the pseudonym John Doe who claims former East Lyme priest Richard T. Buongirno repeatedly sexually abused him as a boy.

A Norwich Superior Court judge ruled last week the case would have to go to a jury trial.

Reardon is also representing Doe in that case.


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