Simsbury Priest Pleads Not Guilty to Sexual Assault Charges

By Kim Velsey
Hartford Courant
September 22, 2011,0,2257928.story

A Simsbury priest accused of touching an 18-year-old man's pubic area while administering confession pleaded not guilty Thursday morning at Superior Court in Enfield to misdemeanor charges of sexual assault.

The Rev. Edward Warnakulasuriya, a priest at St. Bernard's Catholic Church in the Tariffville section of Simsbury, was suspended by the Archdiocese of Hartford in August after being charged with three counts of fourth-degree sexual assault.

Before his appointment to St. Bernard's, Warnakulasuriya served for several years as an assistant pastor at St. Martha Roman Catholic Church in Enfield, where he was known by a different name. In church and public records, Warnakulasuriya is also listed as Edward Tissera and W. Edward Julian Tissera. The archdiocese lists him as Edward J. Tissera.

The 18-year-old told police that he had visited Warnakulasuriya for confession at the rectory on several occasions between early 2010 and July 18 of this year, during which time the man told police that Warnakulasuriya had touched his pubic area.

On the July 18 visit, the young man told police that he went to see the priest because he was conflicted about his faith. When Warnakulasuriya noticed that he was crying, the man told police that the priest kissed him on the forehead "for a long time." The young man again confessed his sins, including masturbation, and Warnakulasuriya said, "Let's go to my bedroom," according to the warrant, which states that the teenager told the priest that he was "uncomfortable" with what he was doing.

Upstairs, the man told police, Warnakulasuriya asked him to pull down his shorts. The priest then put his hand inside the young man's boxer shorts and touched his genitals. The priest said a prayer in a language the young man said he did not understand, and then the priest put oils on the young man's arms, legs and lips, according to the warrant. Warnakulasuriya had the young man rub the same oil on his genitals, the warrant states.

Two days later, the young man said, he met with a priest and nun from the archdiocese and told them what Warnakulasuriya had done. The priest replied that what Warnakulasuriya did was not a blessing and "was very wrong." The young man notified police the same day.

At his arraignment, Warnakulasuriya, a U.S. citizen originally from Sri Lanka, was ordered to surrender his passport.

On Thursday, a sizable group of Warnakulasuriya's friends and parishioners, who declined to comment, accompanied Warnakulasuriya to court. He is scheduled to appear in Enfield court again on Nov. 3.


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