|Sexual Abuse Suit Names Priest, Archdiocese
By Allan Appel
New Haven Independent
March 3, 2010
(Updated)Sitting before the news cameras in his lawyer’s downtown New Haven office, Brooks Thopsey relived a painful moment 20 years earlier, inside a church. He was lifting his arms, changing into his altar boy’s robe, when a priest he and his family had trusted made a direct frontal sexual attack on him, he said.
Thopsey (pictured) recalled the tale Wednesday morning during a press conference to announce that he has filed a a civil suit against the former pastor of St. Theresa’s Church in Trumbull, John Castaldo. Also named as defendants are the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and its former bishops, including Edward Egan, since promoted to Archbishop of New York.
The suit, filed in state Superior Court in New Haven, charges not only that Castaldo, since defrocked and convicted of other sexual crimes, abused Thopsey. It charges also that the priest’s superiors, including Egan, had been warned of Castaldo’s behavior —including “bizarre sexual proclivities”—and nevertheless hired and promoted Castaldo to work involving children.
The Bridgeport Diocese flatly denied the charges Wednesday and said it has evidence to the contrary.
Thopsey said he was coming forward after decades of panic and anxiety attacks so severe he couldn’t hold a glass of water in his hand. He said he hopes “to try to help other families. Word needs to be put out that the church needs to be accountable for all the hurt they’ve done.”
Thopsey said the attack came when he was changing garments during an early, sparsely attended morning mass. He was in fifth grade at the time. “I was serving by myself. He Castaldo] previously had taken me to breakfast. He’d told dirty jokes, he’d put his hand on my leg, sick things like this. I don’t want to go into details.”
Minnesota-based attorney Jeff Anderson pioneered the pursuit of sexual abuse cases against the church. He is was assisting New Haven attorney Joel Faxon in the case. (Anderson is pictured on the right, Faxon on the left, flanking Thopsey.) Anderson said that Castaldo had “groomed the parents to get to the child. And groomed the child to get to the parents. That’s what serial offenders do. It’s been called ‘a slaying of the soul.’”
Topsey said he’s not necessarily looking for a formal apology from the church. Faxon said it would be appropriate as Castaldo was a “known sexual deviant” and now a convicted one and that the church’s style of secrecy in these matters allowed the incidents to be covered over.
In December, a separate seven-year legal battle came to a turning point when the Bridgeport Diocese released thousands of documents pertaining to sexual abuse complaints against its priests. (Click here for the National Public Radio story.) The archdiocese is expected to appeal.
The Bridgeport Diocese Wednesday afternoon issued this statement refuting the charges against Castaldo:
“The Diocese of Bridgeport is surprised to learn through a press release of the claim by Brooks Thopsey that he was abused by former priest John Castaldo.
“The Diocese has credible information dating back to 2004 that Mr. Thopsey was not sexually abused by John Castaldo. In the past, a representative on behalf of Mr. Thopsey had contacted us to claim that Mr. Thopsey had experienced some psychological harm related to another matter, but not as a result of being sexually abused by John Castaldo. Three years later, his father called the Diocese suggesting that Brooks Thopsey had been harmed. The Diocese immediately reached out, but Brooks Thopsey (who was already an adult) never responded.”
Joel Faxon, who has represented nearly 100 victims of priest abuse, said he knows what to expect from the archdiocese: “Delay, obstruction, obfuscation.”
Faxon vowed to depose Egan, who retired last year from being the Big Apple’s archbishop: “He is a defendant in our case. He can’t hide behind international law. He must appear, or we will take drastic action.”
Brooks’ father, Floyd Thopsey, accompanied his son on Wednesday. He said he was proud his child had come forward. “We were betrayed not just by Castaldo but by church officials,” he said.
The elder Thopsey said he doesn’t go to St. Theresa’s any more, or to any parish. “I feel sorry for the good priests,” he said.
Brooks Thopsey, who still lives in Trumbull, said whenever he is near St. Theresa’s, he will take another route to go around the church. “It makes me nauseous.”
Although he no longer subscribes to Catholic beliefs, he still considers himself a spiritual person, he said.
“He stole a big part of my childhood. There are huge chunks of my childhood I can’t remember,” he added.
The lawsuit seeks damages ultimately to be determined by a jury for personal and psychological effects, lost wages, and so forth. Faxon said the next phase is release of documents (he hopes). He expects the case, if it goes to trial, to be transferred to Waterbury, where judges are experienced in this area.
Faxon said his four-lawyer firm’s practice is limited to those who have experienced sexual abuse, medical malpractice, catastrophic injury (including some involved in the recent Middletown explosion), and even some victims of the Madoff financial scandal. The clients aren’t asked to pay upfront fees.
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