Abuse Claims Mount against Ex-Area Priest

By Robert Varley
New Haven Register [Connecticut]
May 16, 2005

Two more men have come forward alleging sexual abuse by the Rev. Daniel McSheffery, including the first accusation that McSheffrey engaged in misconduct while he was pastor of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in North Branford.

The priest, who is in his mid-70s, lives in Florida. McSheffery served in North Branford for 16 years until the first allegations surfaced in 2002.

Since 2002, six other men have accused McSheffery of sexual abuse. Five civil suits stem from McSheffery's time at St. Augustine. The sixth comes from McSheffery's stint at St. George in Guilford.

One of the latest lawsuits, filed in New Haven, comes from a man known as "John Doe," an altar boy at St. Augustine in North Branford at the time of the alleged 1988 incident.

Doe's complaint lists multiple counts against McSheffery, the Hartford Archdiocese and St. Augustine Church: reckless battery, negligent battery, reckless infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment and breach of fiduciary duty.

The complaint alleges that McSheffery sexually assaulted Doe, then 15, in the North Branford rectory. Doe said he was made to perform sexual acts, given an alcoholic beverage and told that no one would believe him if he reported the incident.

The diocese has also been accused of negligent hiring and retention for failing to perform an appropriate background investigation, psychiatric evaluation or performance review of the priest.

McSheffery's attorney, Hugh F. Keefe of New Haven, disputed the eight complaints.

"Not one of them has gone to trial. Not a single court anywhere has found him guilty of anything," he said. "It's one thing to charge. It's another thing to prove."

Each lawsuit is pending.

Keefe said it was "open season" on Catholic priests and the diocese for those looking to make money.

Doe's attorney, Michael Stratton, did not return repeated phone calls.

The other complaint, by Raymond Bazzano of Boston, lists only McSheffery as a defendant. It accuses him of similar charges, including assault and battery and negligence, but the incidents are alleged to have occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when McSheffery was an associate pastor in Hartford.

"It's more than coincidence that the allegations have been described in similar ways," said Bazzano's attorney, John Clifford.

That complaint only refers to caressing and groping, not the overt acts alleged in Doe's civil suit.

Both men are seeking compensation, including money and other relief.

When asked how his client responded to additional charges, Keefe answered: "How would you handle it if eight people sued you claiming sexual molestation and you didn't do anything?"

St. Augustine Deacon William Lovelace declined to comment on behalf of the North Branford parish.

"I have the highest respect for Father McSheffery," said longtime parishioner Audrey Gallogly, 76. "I cannot believe what is being said about the man. I pray for him."

Gallogly recalled that McSheffery was like a "brick" of support when her husband was recovering from a long hospital stay.

"He enhanced my faith a great deal," she said. "I feel very close to the church."

"(McSheffery's) still a priest from what I understand, but he's not functioning as a priest," said the Rev. John Gatzak, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Out of the 500 priests in the diocese, Gatzak said, only a handful have faced similar allegations.

But, he said, continued allegations serve as reminders to pray for abuse victims and to strengthen efforts to protect children from further "insidious" acts.

He noted the diocese was working to educate children on the "difference between good and bad touch," how to avoid certain situations and how to get help.

Clifford explained the lengthy delay between the alleged incidents and filing suit.

"It wasn't until they learned of other such claims that they decided it was time to face these demons," he said. "A lot of them had suppressed the emotional fallout for years."