Priest's Past Revealed

By Lisa Backus
Bristol Press
March 31, 2011

A priest recently identified as part of a sexual abuse settlement led congregations in Bristol and Plainville for many years while also serving as a minister at a local high school.

According to papers filed in a Hartford court in 2009, the Archdiocese of Hartford approved a settlement of more than $20,000 for Jeff Libby, a 48-year-old former Bristol resident now incarcerated in Maine. Libby claims he was repeatedly abused by the Rev. Richard McGann in the 1970s.

McGann was pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church on Maltby Street in Bristol from 1975 to 1977, when the abuse allegedly occurred, court papers show. McGann went on to serve as a chaplain at Hartford Hospital and a pastoral minister at St. Paul High School before being assigned as pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Plainville in 1987.

McGann was placed on administrative leave from Our Lady of Mercy in 2005, archdiocese spokesperson Maria Zone said, declining to comment on the settlement. While on administrative leave, McGann cannot perform the functions of a priest, such as serve communion. He has not been stripped of his status as a priest, Zone said.

The archdiocese does not know where McGann is now living, she said. Attempts to reach McGann on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

"It is the policy of the archdiocese not to comment on specific settlements," Zone said in a prepared statement. "But it is important that the public know that the Archdiocese of Hartford is doing everything possible to keep our youth safe."

The archdiocese now requires all clergy, staff and volunteers to complete a "safe environment" curriculum that includes background checks and sexual abuse awareness training, she said.

A woman who answered the phone Wednesday at St. Gregory, and another who answered at Our Lady of Mercy, declined comment. St. Paul High School Principal Cary Dupont, who attended the school as a student, Wednesday said he did not recall McGann and could not speak to the accusations.

Libby was about 12 years old when the abuse began, said his attorney in Maine, Richard Olson. Libby's family lived in the Bristol area at the time, he said. Libby is serving a 60-year prison in Maine for drowning his grandfather more than 25 years ago. He was in denial about the abuse for years until he sought help while in prison, Olson said.

"Jeff's position is that had a judge known about the situation he would have considered it a mitigating factor in sentencing," Olson said. "Jeff has sought help from the archdiocese in Maine and Hartford in asking for a hearing on a reduction of the sentence, but they have been silent."

The settlement and allegations came to light Monday during a news conference in Hartford held by David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The 10,000-member national organization works to publicly identify clergy or church employees who have been the subject of sexual abuse settlements or criminal charges, said Clohessy, explaining that he suffered abuse at the hands of a priest in the 1970s.

"We work to heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable," he said Wednesday. "We are hoping to spare some other child the horror we went through."

Clohessy learned of Libby's allegations and the settlement about a month ago, he said. He traveled from St. Louis to stage the news conference about McGann and another in Bridgeport about three other Connecticut clergy staff members also accused of abuse. Based on figures provided by the Boston-based research group, Clohessy said there are 28 clerics publicly accused of child molestation in the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Olson said Libby unsuccessfully petitioned the Maine court for a clemency hearing last year. Libby will try again in the spring, he said.

Archdiocese officials and Clohessy said McGann's whereabouts are unknown. Since the statute of limitations has run out, McGann can not be charged with a crime, Olson said.

"Here is a situation where the church won't even try to make this right," Olson said. "There is a time when a real pastoral leader stops looking at the liability and what the lawyers are saying and says, 'What should I do?' There are lots of things the church should be doing for Jeff Libby and others."

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