Norwich Diocese Pays $2m in Lawsuit

By Brian Wallheimer
Norwich Bulletin
January 21, 2007

Norwich -- The Roman Catholic Norwich Diocese has settled a priest molestation lawsuit for $2 million, the largest payment by a Connecticut diocese to a victim in the priest molestation scandal.

Michael Nelligan, 44, alleged the Rev. Bruno Primavera, a visiting priest in the diocese from 1978 to 1980, molested him while Primavera was serving at St. Mark's Church in Westbrook. Nelligan was 15 and an altar boy and member of the Catholic Youth Organization at the time.

Primavera also served at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in New London.

"Michael has struggled with this ordeal all his life," Nelligan's attorney, Robert Reardon of New London, said. "These are the types of issues in people's lives you don't talk about. When (Nelligan) saw others come forward, he decided to do the same."

Joseph T. Sweeney, the attorney who represented the Norwich Diocese, said the diocese hopes Nelligan can use the money to get help for his mental anguish.

"Bishop (Michael) Cote is very concerned about this issue," Sweeney said. "Our hearts go out to Michael Nelligan."

Catholics in Norwich Saturday said the news a Norwich Diocese priest had been involved in the scandal was disturbing.

"Any of that stuff bothers me," said Colleen Hall, 28, of Norwich.

Robert Civarli, 70, of Norwich said he felt for both sides.

"I just feel sorry for the victim and, in a way, I feel sorry for the priests, too. There's something wrong with them. They're sick," Civarli said.

The settlement came from mediation with retired state Supreme Court Justice Angelo G. Santaniello. Reardon said there was evidence of Primavera's sexual misconduct in the 1970s that was overlooked, causing the large settlement amount.

According to Reardon, the Diocese of Toronto, in Canada, sent a letter to Norwich in 1978, when Primavera came here, saying Primavera had "a tendency to seek out the companionship of young teenage boys on a one-to-one basis."

The letter also said though there had been no scandal, it was advisable to send him elsewhere and he had received counseling from a Catholic psychiatrist.

"The conduct here was quite disturbing," Reardon said. "The diocese accepted this priest from the Diocese of Toronto knowing he had been overtly friendly with young boys."

Sweeney said Norwich Diocese officials in 1978 were told by the Toronto Diocese Primavera's actions were not sexual in nature.

"The diocese back in 1978 did act responsibly," Sweeney said.

But, in 1979, parishioners in Westbrook lodged complaints about "theft and homosexuality" related to Primavera and he was transferred to New London. Michael Long of Waterford later accused Primavera of molestation while in New London and the diocese settled for $1.1 million.

And in 1980, Waterford police found Primavera "in a compromising position" with a boy, according to Sweeney.

Sweeney said Primavera promptly was fired and sent back to Toronto. Sweeney then served in dioceses in Toronto, Boston, Hartford and New York before going to New Mexico in 1990 to teach at a Catholic boys' high school. There he was convicted of sex offenses involving teenage boys.

While in prison, he was defrocked as a priest. He died in Connecticut in 2006 denying any wrongdoing.

Nelligan now lives in Portland, Maine. He did not wish to comment.

Reach Brian Wallheimer at 425-4241 or


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