Day Care Owner Denies Disgraced Priest Lived There

By Lisa Backus
Bristol Press
May 24, 2011

BRISTOL — A city woman is denying claims by a national advocacy group that she allowed a former priest accused of molestation to live in her Root Avenue home where she runs a day care center.

Debra Zakrzewski said she is friends with the Rev. Richard McGann but that he never lived in her home or was near the children at the center.

McGann's access to the children is a driving point behind a news conference scheduled for today at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Zakrzewski, a long-time Bristol resident, acknowledged Tuesday her center had been investigated by two state agencies because of her relationship with McGann, but said it has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

"This is absolutely crazy, I had nothing to do with this," said Zakrzewski, who runs Pumpkin Patch Day Care out of her home. "They have gone through everything and not found a thing. Why does anyone have the right to harass me this way?"

SNAP staged a similar news conference in March to announce it had found proof that the Archdiocese of Hartford had paid a settlement of more than $20,000 to Jeff Libby, a 48-year-old former Bristol resident now incarcerated in Maine for the killing of his grandfather. Libby claims he was repeatedly abused by McGann in the 1970s.

McGann was a priest at St. Gregory the Great Church on Maltby Street from 1975 to 1977, when the abuse allegedly occurred, according to papers filed in a Hartford court in 2009.

McGann went on to serve as a chaplain at Hartford Hospital and as a pastoral minister at St. Paul High School before being assigned as pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Plainville in 1987.

He was placed on administrative leave from Our Lady of Mercy in 2005, archdiocese officials said in March. While on administrative leave, McGann cannot perform the functions of a priest, such as serve communion, but he has not been stripped of his status as a priest.

SNAP executive director David Clohessy said today's news conference will focus on alerting parents to McGann's whereabouts in Bristol and on encouraging state and church officials to investigate his activities.

"We also want to prod Catholic officials to come clean about allegations against priests and whether they have entered into any other secret settlements ..." Clohessy said.

The group is also expected to hand out an e-mailed confirmation from the state Department of Public Health that the agency is investigating Zakrzewski's day care center.

Zakrzewski called the nonprofit group's claims "crazy" and contended that McGann has never lived in her home. "Just because you know someone you can be accused of something like this?" she said.

"I've run a day care here for 30 years and there has never been a problem."

She said the state Department of Children and Families and the health department have recently completed investigations of her business and that she anticipates being cleared by both shortly.

"All the investigations were closed," she said.

State officials were unavailable for comment late Tuesday.


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