Supreme Court Sends Priest Sex Case Back to Superior Court

The Associated Press, carried in The Advocate
July 17, 2006

Hartford, Conn. -- The state Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for a lawsuit against the Norwich Diocese over allegations that a priest sexually assaulted a boy more than 40 years ago.

The court ruled unanimously that the lawsuit was filed within Connecticut's statute of limitations and can go forward.

A man identified in Supreme Court papers as David Doe claims that he was sexually assaulted when he was 9 and 10 in 1962 and 1963 by the Rev. Bernard Bissonnette.

He sued in 2002, at age 49, for physical and emotional injuries he claims to have sustained.

Monday's ruling involved two issues - a 1972 law that changed the legal age of adulthood from 21 to 18, and the 30-year statute of limitations to sue for child sexual assault.

In its argument, the diocese said the lawsuit was not timely under state law. A Hartford judge agreed, saying the alleged victim was required by law to sue before reaching age 48 in 2001, 30 years after he turned 18.

But the high court ruled Monday that the man's lawsuit was filed in time because he was 19 when the state changed the age of adulthood to 18 in 1972, giving him until 2002 to file it.

Karen Clark, who represents the accuser, said memories of the alleged assaults "came to light for him" in 2000 or 2001.

Clark said the courts are interpreting the statute of limitations period as the legislature intended.

"Everyone views this kind of abuse as absolutely terrible and the courts are going to interpret the legislature's words expansively," she said.

A call was placed seeking comment from the lawyer for the diocese.

Bissonnette was the subject of a New Mexico Supreme Court decision in 2002. The court ruled that the Norwich Diocese could not be sued for damages in New Mexico by a victim of alleged sexual abuse when Bissonnette worked in Santa Fe.

The lawsuit filed in 2002 accused the diocese of doing nothing during the priest's tenure in the 1960s at St. Mary's Church in Putnam, despite reports of inappropriate contact with young boys. The complaint said the diocese knew or should have known the threat Bissonnette posed to young parishioners.

Bissonnette, who had served in Putnam, was accused of molesting scores of boys in Windham County and was sent to a New Mexico treatment center in the 1960s when several child sexual abuse allegations surfaced, according to court records in 2002.

It was not immediately known where Bissonnette now lives.


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