Of Priests Involved in Molestation Scandal, Five Served in Danbury Area, Lawyer Alleges

November 24, 2009

BRIDGEPORT -- Of the eight Roman Catholic priests involved in a child molestation scandal in one Trumbull parish, five also served in Danbury-area parishes over the years, according to a Brookfield attorney involved in the case.

The revelation about eight priests and 32 abuse allegations in Trumbull came Tuesday as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport moved to quash an order to turn over information in an unresolved lawsuit alleging that priests in St. Theresa Parish abused children.

In turn, the attorneys representing the plaintiff in the case, the late Michael Powel, asked the court to deny the diocese's request.

"We think it's in the public interest that this information gets released," Brookfield attorney Helen L. McGonigle said Tuesday. McGonigle represents Margaret Jensen, the administrator of Powel's estate.

The move comes even as the Bridgeport diocese readies itself to release a trove of documents in other cases involving molestation allegations -- a move ordered by the courts.

In the Trumbull case, the diocese filed a motion in Waterbury Superior Court asking the court to block release of information about priests at St. Theresa Parish dating to the 1970s.

The motion was made in a lawsuit filed against the diocese by Michael Powel, who claimed he was abused by the Rev. Joseph Gorecki in 1971 at the church. Gorecki died in 1988 and Powel died of cancer last year, but the case is still being pressed by Jensen, the substitute plaintiff in the case.

In their motion, the lawyers for the diocese say they have collected 126 boxes of documents regarding abuse by priests at the Trumbull church. The motion says the diocese has identified eight priests who have been accused in 32 claims of abuse at St. Theresa Parish, Trumbull.

McGonigle said that of those eight, five served in the Danbury area. She said they are:

The Rev. W. Philip Coleman, who served at St. Joseph Church in Danbury in 1969 and at St. Joseph's Church in Brookfield Center from 1983-87. He taught at Immaculate High School in 1988.

The Rev. Martin Federici, who served at St. Edward the Confessor Church in New Fairfield in 1984.

The Rev. Joseph Moore, who served at St. Joseph Church in Danbury from 1976-81, then at St. Mary Church in Bethel in 1982 and 1983.

Monsignor Martin Ryan, who currently serves at St. Edward the Confessor Church in New Fairfield.

Monsignor Gregory Smith, who served at St. Joseph Church in Danbury from 1970-73.

Of the five, only Ryan still serves as a priest. He has denied allegations that he tried to kiss and touch a 17-year-old girl in 1978. The diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board ruled in 2002 that Ryan was fit for the ministry and allowed him to continue his duties.

Nine of the 32 claims in Trumbull concern alleged abuse that occurred before 1973; 23 claims cite abuse that allegedly took place between 1973 and 1983; two claims are of abuse that allegedly occurred between 1984 and 1989; and three claims are of alleged abuse after 1990.

"Requiring the diocese to review such information is unfair, will cause substantial financial hardship, will delay discovery and the trial of this matter, and will ultimately delay and confuse the issues at trial," the motion says.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ended the diocese's six-year fight to keep the documents that detail abuse by priests sealed, when it refused to hear a diocesan appeal of the Connecticut Supreme Court order that the records be made public.

The diocese initially was ordered to turn over the documents for lawsuits filed in the early 1990s, but they remained sealed. The state Supreme Court in May ordered the files be unsealed, and after losing several motions before the U.S. Supreme Court, the diocese will be forced to release the documents next Tuesday.

Since the 1990s, 20 priests in the Bridgeport diocese have been suspended in the sex-abuse scandal. In March 2001, the diocese paid $15 million in settlements, and in October 2003 it paid out another $21 million.

J. Michael Reck, who with Helen McGonigle represents the Powel estate in the lawsuit against the diocese, said many of the documents they are seeking from the diocese about abuse at St. Theresa Parish are among those ordered unsealed by the Supreme Court.

"It's not like they are saying they don't have the documents. They are saying not only do they exist and they have them, but they are just not going to give them to us," Reck said.

Reck said he already has information about seven priests, including Gorecki, who were accused of abusing children in the Trumbull church, but he was surprised to learn from the diocese's motion about an eighth priest.

"We really don't know who that could be, but hopefully we will find that out in the documents," he said. "They had a nest of criminals in one little parish."

Diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer said Tuesday, "Michael Reck, attorney for the estate of Mr. Michael Powel, has issued a press release today making accusations about circumstances two generations ago in order to engender bias in present judicial proceedings and to create false impressions regarding the Diocese of Bridgeport.

"Mr. Reck sensationally announces that 'this is a public safety nightmare.' It is not. None of the priests from this parish who were found to have abused a child remains in ministry. The diocese removes from ministry any priest who is found to have abused a child."


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