Diocese Settles Lawsuit with Woman Who Accused Late Priest

By Joe Wojtas
The Day

December 19, 2008

The Diocese of Norwich has settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who said the late Rev. Thomas Shea repeatedly sexually assaulted her at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Gales Ferry, beginning when she was 10 years old.

Mary Jane Leverone is one of many women who have said Shea kissed and fondled them as girls during his 37 years as a priest, many of which were spent in parishes in southeastern Connecticut.

Leverone's attorney, James Hall of Pawcatuck, declined to discuss the amount of the settlement Thursday, saying he wanted to protect his client's privacy. The diocese did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The settlement, which resulted in the lawsuit being withdrawn on Monday, comes just three weeks before an arbitration hearing was scheduled in New London Superior Court. At that time a judge would have determined the merits of the lawsuit and whether Leverone was entitled to any monetary damages.

Earlier court documents revealed that Leverone had offered to settle the suit for $1.2 million but that the diocese's insurance would only pay $500,000. Any amount above that would have had to come from the diocese.

The diocese has now paid out approximately $5 million over the past few years to people who said they were sexually abused by its priests.

Leverone said that Shea kissed, massaged and fondled her from 1969 to 1971. The suit had charged that the diocese ignored warnings that Shea posed a danger to children and assigned him to Our Lady of Lourdes parish.

Leverone's lawsuit also charged that former Bishop Daniel Reilly received numerous psychological and medical reports about Shea. Diocesan attorneys had refused to release many documents about Shea and sought to ask Leverone numerous questions on subjects dating back to when she was 5 years old.

Among those were to describe every relationship or friendship she's had since May 1964; every medical practitioner who has treated her, and for what; all prescriptions she's taken; what schools she attended; what classes she took and what grades she received. A diocesan attorney said that because Leverone seemed to be making “seemingly boundless” claims of psychiatric damage, the diocese was entitled to ask the questions to properly defend itself.

Leverone said the alleged abuse by Shea has caused her a lifetime of serious physical and psychological problems as well as difficulties in maintaining relationships and holding down a job.

Shea was accused of molesting at least 16 girls in 11 parishes in the diocese. Bishops frequently moved him from one church to another after parents complained about his behavior, which often involved kissing and fondling young girls. The bishops, including Reilly, never reported Shea to police.

Shea was ordained in 1946 and sent to his first assignment, a Catholic girls' summer camp in New Hartford. He served in churches in New London, Norwich, Mystic, Groton, Gales Ferry, Montville and Plainfield, among other towns.

When Reilly transferred Shea to St. Joseph's Church in New London in 1976, it was with orders that Shea be kept away from children in the parish school. Girls at St. Joseph's said Shea liked to take photos of them in their bathing suits. Shea kept scrapbooks of the girls he took photos of over the years.

Reilly removed Shea from the ministry in 1983 and sent him for treatment after an adult woman said Shea forced her to perform a sexual act on him when she was a young girl


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