|Church Faces Abuse Claim
By Elizabeth Hamilton
February 7, 2008
An Arizona man is suing the Hartford archdiocese for sexual abuse he says was committed in the 1970s by the Rev. Louis Paturzo, a well-known activist priest who worked with the city's troubled youth until the first accusations against him surfaced in 2002.
Edward Cerninka was a seventh-grade student at The Reverend Daniel Barry Junior High School in Hamden when he met Paturzo in 1976.
According to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in New Haven Superior Court, Paturzo was assigned to the Blessed Sacrament Church in Hamden, which was next door to the school, and helped coach the basketball team, which is how he met Cerninka.
In late 1976, Paturzo befriended Cerninka's parents and then asked Cerninka to play on the travel team.
According the lawsuit, Paturzo first molested Cerninka in late 1976 and the abuse continued through August 1978. Cerninka's attorney, Thomas McNamara, declined to describe the alleged abuse.
Two men who accused Paturzo in 2002 said he fondled them in the early 1970s, when he was working as a deacon but had not yet been ordained.
Paturzo, who admitted to the claims made by the two men, was stripped of his priestly faculties by the archdiocese, and he resigned from his part-time job as a peer mediator consultant at Quirk Middle School in Hartford. The archdiocese paid out $22 million in 2005 to settle claims against 14 of its priests, including Paturzo.
Most recently, Paturzo was known to be working as the director of the New Day transitional program for criminal offenders in Hartford. Attempts to reach Paturzo Wednesday were unsuccessful.
The lawsuit claims that church officials failed to report complaints about Paturzo's sexually abusing at least one other minor to the proper authorities. According to McNamara, the church knew Paturzo was molesting boys before he befriended Cerninka.
McNamara said he interviewed the parents of one of Paturzo's earlier victims, who told him they reported the priest's behavior to his superior at Blessed Sacrament Church in the fall of 1976. The priest then promised the boy's parents it would not happen again, McNamara said.
The Rev. John Gatzak, spokesman for the Hartford archdiocese, said Wednesday that the archdiocese has a policy of not commenting publicly on ongoing litigation. He also said Paturzo, while not officially defrocked by the Vatican, can no longer present himself or function as a priest.
"He cannot claim to be a priest, and he cannot dress like a priest," Gatzak said.
Paturzo, who was ordained in 1973, was sent for evaluation and treatment at two psychiatric institutions in the 1990s after the archdiocese received an anonymous complaint by a mother who accused him of fondling her son while he was serving as a deacon in Hamden. Although that complaint was investigated by state police, it was not proven.
The second allegation against Paturzo was filed in February of 2002 by a man who said he was groped by Paturzo in a Waterbury rectory in 1972.
When that complaint became public, so did the other, and Paturzo was removed from active ministry.
Contact Elizabeth Hamilton at email@example.com.
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