Some Priest Abuse Claims Remain Open

By Sue Reinert
Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA)
March 8, 2005

The Patriot Ledger Tony Cotillo says he was 9 years old when a priest sexually assaulted him during confession at St. Joseph Church in Holbrook.

Like hundreds of other alleged victims of clergy abuse, Cotillo sued the priest and church officials. But now he finds himself in a group apart.

Cotillo, 27, filed suit too late to participate in the $85 million settlement reached in 2003 with more than 550 plaintiffs. So he has no idea when his case will be resolved.

"The public perception is that there are no more claims, no more victims," said Cotillo, who now lives in Franklin with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, he and the 200 others whose suits are still pending "find ourselves stuck in a sort of legal limbo. ... I think it's unfair to the victims and psychologically damaging," he said.

That could soon change.

Yesterday, officials announced that the archdiocese had reached a settlement with one of its insurers, Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co., to cover a portion of the $85 million settlement deal. Officials plan to reveal financial terms later. Church officials previously had said they wouldn't be ready to negotiate on pending suits until the church had resolved insurance disputes.

"We are hopeful that, in the near future, we will be in a position to begin discussions about how to resolve pending cases," the Rev. John Connolly, special assistant to the archbishop, said in a statement issued yesterday.

The statement said the archdiocese is negotiating with a second insurer.

"I'm relieved that the archdiocese and its insurance company managed to settle as quickly as they did," Cotillo said last night. "It's certainly heartening."

Cotillo said he was a fourth-grader at St. Joseph's School when the Rev. Robert Fichtner, then pastor of the church, abused him during confession. Students routinely left class to go to confession, he said.

"I was violently forced to perform oral sex on him," Cotillo said.

The Rev. Fichtner, who served at St. Joseph's from 1981 to 1990, did not respond to messages left at his residence in Waltham.

He was a regional vicar of the church in Watertown when he retired in 2002. Church officials placed the Rev. Fichtner on administrative leave pending their investigation of Cotillo's allegations, the church's customary response to abuse accusations.

Priests on administrative leave "cannot minister or function publicly as a priest without permission," spokeswoman Kelly Lynch said. The church also notifies the attorney general and the appropriate district attorney of any abuse allegation, she said.

Cotillo said he did not tell anyone about the event for years. Right afterward, "I tried to tell my mother and she was on the phone and she was busy," Cotillo said. "She snapped at me and I never brought it up again."

"It's difficult enough for a grown man to come forward and be able to do this. For any child, it is extraordinarily difficult," he said.

After the incident, his grades and behavior took a nosedive, he said. He left St. Joseph's, went to public school for two years and then enrolled at Thayer Academy in Braintree.

"For the entire time I was growing up, I was saddled with this incredible rage with no way to express it," Cotillo said.

He finally told his wife "right after the (priest abuse) story started to explode in Boston," Cotillo said. "You couldn't get away from it as a survivor."

But he didn't want to file suit during the tenure of Cardinal Bernard Law, when church lawyers used "aggressive and intimidating tactics," Cotillo said. "They were shredding people's lives," he said. "I didn't want to put my family through it."

By the time Cotillo decided to go ahead, he had missed the deadline for joining the settlement, he said.

His lawyer, Carmen Durso, filed a lawsuit in January on behalf of 25 unnamed plaintiffs, including Cotillo. The suit named Cardinal Law; other former high-ranking church officials; 11 priests, including the Rev. Fichtner, who are alive; six priests who have died; and three lay employees of the archdiocese, including one who has died.

Besides the Rev. Fichtner, two other priests had not been named in previous abuse allegations: the Rev. Anthony Laurano and the Rev. Robert F. Daly.

Lynch said the Rev. Laurano is on administrative leave and the Rev. Daly "left active ministry more than 20 years ago."

The Rev. Laurano and the Rev. Daly could not be reached. The suit said the Rev. Laurano lives in Hull and the Rev. Daly in Plymouth.

Cotillo works in a bank information technology department and teaches tai chi in Franklin, he said.

Within the past two months, two church investigators interviewed him with his attorney about his allegations against the Rev. Fichtner, he said.

"I gave them all the help I could," Cotillo said. "I want to make sure that this man is not allowed any more access to children. My hope is that the Archdiocese of Boston and the Vatican implement a policy by which these priests are monitored for the rest of their lives." Sue Reinert may be reached at


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