Ex-Area Priest Named in Suit
Casimano was ordained in Gallup

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup (NM) Independent
January 24, 2004

Gallup, NM — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup has reportedly been named in yet another civil lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a former priest.

Deacon Timoteo Lujan, the chancellor of the Gallup Diocese who acts as a spokesman for Bishop Donald E. Pelotte, confirmed on Thursday that the diocese had been notified about a second lawsuit filed in California. Lujan said, however, he hasn't seen the legal documents yet.

Earlier this month The Independent learned the diocese was a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed in California. A plaintiff in that case is alleging Father James Burns, a retired Gallup Diocese priest, sexually abused him when the plaintiff was a minor in Winslow, Ariz., and during trips to California.

According to Lujan, this second case involves allegations made against Father Santino A. Casimano, a former Diocese of Gallup priest. Earlier this week, news reports in Connecticut were filled with stories about the allegations and the civil suit against the priest, who has been serving in the Diocese of Norwich. Information about the allegations was released to the Connecticut media on Tuesday.

Contrary to some of the Connecticut news reports, the allegations are not based on the brief time Casimano actually served in the Gallup Diocese on the Navajo Reservation, said Lujan. Instead, they are based on the time Casimano, who was ordained in Gallup in 1975 and served under the authority of the Gallup Diocese, worked in the newly created Diocese of Orange in Orange County, Calif., in the late 1970s.

Casimano's Resignation

Casimano had been serving as the interim principal at St. Bernard High School in Uncasville, Conn., since July 1, 2003. He resigned earlier this month after learning allegations had been made against him in California.

On Tuesday, the Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, the bishop of Norwich, addressed an assembly of students and faculty at St. Bernard's and announced Casimano's resignation. Cote's statement was also released to the news media.

According to Cote, on Jan. 7 Casimano "received word that two brothers were accusing him of having sexually abused them while they were minors" 26 years ago.

"My heart goes out to Father Casimano," Cote continued, "but in light of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, there was no other option. The Church has committed itself to creating safe environments for the protection of all young people."

Cote also referred to the alleged victims: "At the same time, my heart also goes out to the young men making these allegations for the sufferings they have experienced over the years. I pray they will find healing and reconciliation. Please keep them in your prayers."

The bishop added if anyone from St. Bernard's was ever "inappropriately treated" they should inform the church, and assistance would be offered.

By Thursday, Casimano talked briefly with a local newspaper, The Day of New London, and he denied the allegations were true. He said he had only "very, very dim" memories of his accusers.

When contacted by The Independent on Thursday, Jacqueline Keller, the Norwich Diocesan Communications Director, said Casimano would have no priestly assignments until the civil case in California was resolved. If Casimano is cleared of the allegations, she explained, he will be reinstated to priestly ministry.

Neither the alleged victims, their attorney, or the court where the lawsuit was filed have been identified in any news reports to date. The Independent left several telephone messages on Thursday and Friday for the California attorney who reportedly is representing the plaintiffs, but she did not returned the calls.

Ordained in Gallup

According to Lujan, officials from the Diocese of Orange sent a letter to diocesan officials in Gallup informing them of the lawsuit. Both dioceses are reportedly named in the lawsuit, he said.

After Casimano's ordination in 1975, Lujan related, the priest served for less than a year at St. Paul's Parish in Crownpoint, N.M., located in the eastern portion of the Navajo Reservation. Lujan said Casimano's file indicates he did not like mission life, and he convinced then-Bishop Jerome Hastrich to allow him to leave the diocese and work in the newly created Diocese of Orange, even though he was still under the authority of the Gallup Diocese.

According to the Official Catholic Directory, Casimano is listed as working in Crownpoint in 1976. The Independent could not find Casimano listed in 1977, but he is listed with a street address in Santa Ana, Calif., in 1978, and he is listed as serving at St. Anthony Claret Church in Anaheim, Calif., in 1979 and 1980. In 1981 he is listed as a Navy chaplain. A press release from the Diocese of Norwich, dated Aug. 30, 2000, states Casimano served as a Navy chaplain for nearly 20 years.

During all those years, Casimano was officially a Diocese of Gallup priest although he only served briefly in Crownpoint. Until recently, Lujan explained, military chaplains remained incardinated in the diocese that ordained them because they had to have endorsements from their local diocese.

According to Lujan, Casimano officially transferred from the Diocese of Gallup on Aug. 8, 2000, so he could be incardinated in the Diocese of Norwich. Casimano's file with the Gallup Diocese offers no indication of sexual abuse, he added.

In a news release of Jan. 10, the Diocese of Orange identified 15 priests who have worked in the diocese and had allegations of sexual abuse made against them. Casimano was included, although his name was spelled Santino Casamino.

Father Joseph Fenton, the director of media relations for the Diocese of Orange, said he couldn't comment much about Casimano because Casimano hadn't worked in the diocese for many years and the diocese was faced with a lawsuit.

"Once he left here, we didn't know anything about him," Fenton said. "According to California law, it's all tied up in litigation," he added. Fenton referred further questions to the diocese's attorney.

A message left for that attorney on Friday was not returned. Another message left with Sheehan Sheehan and Stelzner, the Diocese of Gallup's law firm, was also not returned.


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