New Lawsuit Targets Priest Who Served at Lee Church

Berkshire Eagle [Greenfield MA]
Downloaded September 24, 2003

GREENFIELD -- A priest with ties to Berkshire County is among the latest targets in lawsuits filed by people alleging sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen.

Trina Cysz, 30, now of Belchertown, claimed that she was abused by the Rev. John J. Bonzagni while she was a high school student preparing for her confirmation at St. Mary's Parish in Lee.

Cysz claimed in her suit that Bonzagni tried to fondle her when she was 16 years old. She said he twice grabbed her from behind and tried to rub against her, and once held her after confession while they said the Lord's Prayer. Cysz said in each of the three instances she pulled away and the priest did not pursue her.

Her attorney, John Stobierski of Greenfield, said Bonzagni's alleged actions were "not what is commonly perceived to be sexual abuse, but it's still sexual abuse."

Bonzagni, a canon lawyer who lives in St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Lenox and works in the diocesan tribunal office in Springfield, could not be reached for comment.

However, Bishop Thomas Dupre issued a statement saying Bonzagni had spoken with diocesan officials and "steadfastly maintains his innocence."

In the second lawsuit, a Chicopee man who said he was frustrated by his dealings with a Springfield Diocese commission handling clergy misconduct was one of two people filing new lawsuits alleging abuse by priests.

Martin Bono, 48, alleged in the lawsuit that he was abused by the Rev. Richard F. Meehan while he was a teenage student at a parish school at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Springfield.

Both suits were filed Monday in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield by Stobierski, who represents 21 of the 25 people suing the diocese for clergy sex abuse.

At a news conference yesterday, Bono said the Springfield diocese's Misconduct Commission took months to respond to his January 2002 complaint, then told him two days before he was to appear before the commission that he needed a lawyer because Meehan was appearing with a lawyer.

"They had been telling me for months that I didn't need a lawyer then all of the sudden they tell me to hire one on 48 hours notice," he said. "It was insane."

Removed from duties

Meehan was removed from priestly duties more than a year ago by the Misconduct Commission, an all-lay board that investigates allegations of abuse and other wrongdoing by clergy. But Bono said he was so frustrated that he sued anyway.

Diocesan spokesman Mark Dupont did not immediately return a call for comment.

Meehan deferred comment to his attorney Daniel Kelly, who told the Republican newspaper in Springfield that his client had previously denied the allegations and would continue to do so.

Dupre said the new lawsuits have been turned over to lawyers representing the diocese's insurance carriers.

The new filings come a week after Stobierski and church lawyers said they were willing to consider mediation to settle other claims.

Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney is scheduled to hear arguments today in Springfield on a motion by the diocese to dismiss five other lawsuits alleging abuse prior to 1971 when laws limiting suits against charities were relaxed.

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