Update: Facebook Message Prompted New Haven Man to Come Forward with Abuse Lawsuit against Seymour Priest (doc)

By Lauren Garrison
New Haven Register
July 7, 2010

The Rev. Stephen Bzdyra's Facebook photo.

William Dotson never told anyone about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest when he was a pre-teen altar boy in the 1980s, but decided to come forward recently after the priest tried to “friend” his son on Facebook, Dotson’s lawyer said today.

Dotson, now 34, of New Haven, filed a lawsuit today in Superior Court in New Haven charging the Rev. Stephen Bzdyra, who is currently the priest at St. Augustine Church in Seymour, with sexually molesting him.

Bzdyra is also currently chaplain of the Catholic Committee on Scouting for the Connecticut Yankee Council Hartford Archdiocese.

“Will said, ‘I have lived with this secret my whole life. I have to protect my child and other children from this man. He is a predator and needs to be stopped.’ So that’s why we’re doing this,” Attorney Joel Faxon at Stratton Faxon in New Haven said.

The Rev. John P. Gatzak, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Hartford, said today that the Archdiocese has not been served yet with the lawsuit and was only made aware of it by media inquiries. Moreover, he said Dotson never came forward to the Archdiocese with his claims, as is typical in such cases.

“We are not aware of any problems that are going on with Father Bzdyra, and we have no official confirmation of any problems,” Gatzak said.

He said Bzydra will remain in his position at St. Augustine Church in Seymour for the time being.

In cases like these, a board of lay people typically investigates the claims being made and makes a determination as to how to move forward. The priest involved is usually removed from ministry during the investigation, he said.

The lawsuit claims that Bzdyra “repeatedly sexually molested William Dotson and forced himself onto William Dotson ... (and) would physically assault and injure William Dotson.” The suit claims Bzdyra also “forced William Dotson into illegal drug use when the plaintiff was a minor and continuing after that time leading to frequent employment terminations.”

“Prior to and following his repeated sexual battery of William Dotson, Bzdyra provided horseback riding trips, sporting event trips, and frequent lunch dates to William Dotson and other young male members of the parish while underage. Thereafter, Bzdyra continued to intimidate and molest the plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.

Faxon said Bzdyra gave Dotson cash, liquor, two cars, and a washer and dryer.

“How many priests go out and buy cars for people unless they’ve got a reason they’ve got to do it? The way I look at it is clearly this was the equivalent of hush money or a bribe to keep him quiet,” Faxon said.

He said Bzdyra also threatened to turn Dotson’s single mother, who was on government assistance, into the Department of Children and Families if Dotson said anything about the abuse.

The lawsuit says that as a result of Bzdyra’s “reckless sexual battery,” Dotson has suffered “severe pain and bodily intrusion and severe emotional intrusion, some or all of which may be permanent.” He has also incurred expenses related to counseling and therapy, as well as lost wages, employment and career opportunities, the suit claims.

Named as defendants in the suit are Bzdyra, 35 Washington Ave., Seymour; the Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp.; St. Francis Church, 397 Ferry St., New Haven, and St. Hedwig Church, 32 Golden Hill St., Naugatuck.

A person who answered the phone at St. Augustine referred all questions about Bzdyra to the Archdiocese of Hartford.

St. Francis and St. Hedwig didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

According to Faxon, the abuse occurred between 1985 and 1990 at St. Francis and St. Hedwig churches.

“It started when Will was around 10 years old, and went on for a period of time roughly five years until he sort of reached puberty. What often happens in these cases that I’ve seen is that the predators become disinterested in the child once they’re no longer a child and they’ll move on to someone else,” Faxon said.

Faxon said the abuse began when Bzdyra was a priest at St. Francis. After Bzydyra was moved to St. Hedwig, Faxon said, he contacted Dotson and picked him up to bring to the new church.

“This is typical of the dioceses’ handling of child predators. They’ll move them around from location to location to try to refresh them a little bit, but all that does is serve to give them access to new and different children,” Faxon said.

Gatzak denied Faxon’s claims, saying, “It is standard operating procedure that priests don’t stay in one particular parish for a great length of time.” This allows priests to continue growing in their jobs, he said.

Faxon said at this point, no other victims have come forward to claim they were abused by Bzdyra, but added, “I would be shocked if there were not dozens of other children who were attacked by this man.”

Gatzak pointed out that over the past decade, the Archdiocese has taken steps to ensure the safety of young people in the church. The Archdiocese now does an annual compliance audit with a group of former FBI agents to make sure it’s in compliance with the U.S. Catholic Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Archdiocese also does background checks on priests, religious employees and volunteers who work with young people; has a training program for adults about recognizing and reporting sexual abuse; and educates children about abuse and how to get help.

Call Lauren Garrison at 203-789-5614.



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