Norwich Diocese Sued over Alleged Sex Abuse

By Joe Wojtas
The Day

December 19, 2008

Former Pawcatuck man, now 38, accuses priest who was targeted in earlier lawsuit

Stonington - A former Pawcatuck man has filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Norwich charging that the Rev. Paul Hebert sexually assaulted him when he was a first- and second-grade student at St. Michael's School.

Leonard Harrington, 38, is the second man to sue the diocese claiming that Hebert molested him at St. Michael's. Last year, the diocese paid $170,000 to James Fish of Pawcatuck to settle a similar lawsuit, one charging that Hebert sexually assaulted him in the church rectory when he was in the seventh grade. Hebert served at St. Michael's from 1971 to 1981.

”It's sad and unfortunate that Father Hebert's name comes up again,” said Harrington's attorney, James Hall of Pawcatuck.

The new lawsuit, which also names St. Michael's church and school as defendants, charges that Hebert sexually assaulted Harrington three years after Fish said Hebert had molested him. Harrington is now serving a prison sentence at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Rhode Island for robbery and receiving stolen goods. He is set to be released in November 2012.

The diocese said last year that Hebert had denied the allegations by Fish. Hebert could not be reached to comment Thursday. The diocese did not return a call seeking comment.

The lawsuit, filed in New London Superior Court, states that Hebert met Harrington in 1976 when Harrington attended the church and was a first-grade student in the church school. From 1977 through 1979, the suit charges, Hebert engaged in oral sex and sodomy with Harrington, with most of the alleged incidents occurring on church property, particularly the vestry. It also alleges that Hebert exposed Harrington to explicit pornographic material.

Fish charged in his lawsuit that much of his alleged molestation took place in Hebert's rectory bedroom, where he kept a trunk containing 100 to 200 pornographic magazines. He said Hebert would show the magazines to him before the sexual assaults took place.

Harrington's suit charges that the diocese, church and school allowed Hebert to continue to use Harrington as a “sex object” when it knew, or should have known, of his conduct.

The suit also alleges that the three parties “were willfully blind to the conduct of its priests” and disregarded many complaints for years that Hebert was sexually exploiting minor parishioners. It added that the diocese was aware of the threat Hebert posed to children before he came to the diocese but brought him in anyway.

The suit charges that the diocese did not report Hebert's actions to authorities, failed to investigate claims of misconduct, did not enact rules to bar priests from bringing children into private areas and did not warn the parents of Harrington and other children of the dangers of developing relationships with diocesan priests.

The suit claims Harrington suffers from severe mental illness and emotional distress and will need continued counseling. It states the incidents substantially affected his faith, impaired his capacity to work and earn a living and made him unable to fully assimilate with others, as evidenced by his time in prison. Rhode Island records show that Harrington has been arrested numerous times since 1991 and sentenced to 10 prison terms.

Hebert was a diocesan priest from 1959 until 2004, when he was removed following Fish's complaint.

Court documents in Fish's case showed that a parishioner told the diocese in 2004 that she and her husband had witnessed “unsettling” events concerning priests and boys at St. Michael's but did not tell anyone at the time. She said she had talked to the boys since but believes they will not come forward because it would be devastating for their parents, who do not know what occurred.

After leaving St. Michael's in 1981, Hebert was assigned to the Most Holy Trinity Church in Pomfret. He remained there until Bishop Michael Cote placed him on a leave of absence when Fish's allegations came to light. Hebert also served at parishes in Old Saybrook, Montville and Clinton.

Last year the diocese said Hebert is now retired and not serving in any parish but would not reveal where he is living, citing his privacy. The lawsuit states he is living in Somers


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