SNAP Blasts Bridgeport Diocese for Handling of Degraff

By Phil Saviano
December 13, 2011

As has happened thousands of times in recent decades, a Catholic priest is accused of abuse, church officials keep the allegations secret, the cleric is moved elsewhere, no one is warned, and a child has apparently been sexually assaulted as a result.

Shame on every Catholic official involved – in Connecticut and in Canada.

If Bishop Lori had honored his pledge to be open, and told parishioners & public about the allegations, it's very possible (even likely) that others who saw, suspected or suffered Fr. DeGraff's crimes would have spoken up. Then, DFS would have been able to substantiate the allegation, police would have been able to arrest DeGraff, and other kids would have been spared.

While Lori is acting in painfully familiar ways – callously, recklessly, and secretively - here’s one key difference in this case: at least this time, secular authorities were called. But it’s hard to praise church officials for this. Calling the appropriate agency when someone reports suspected child sex abuse is the absolute bare minimum we expect of any adult.

Remember: bishops promised transparency in child sex cases, not just those substantiated by DFS.

Whatever DFS does nothing to lessen the duty of a bishop to safeguard children and warn parents and use his bully pulpit to get to the truth of abuse reports and suspicion.

Parents and parishioners can protect kids if they know about proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics. That kind of disclosure is what Lori and his colleagues promised, but that’s a promise they keep breaking. So kids keep being sexually violated and predator priests keep getting quietly moved elsewhere.

Last week, a Connecticut newspaper disclosed that Fr. Jean Marie DeGraff was arrested Iin Octoberfor allegedly molesting at least one child in Canada in 2010 and 2011. From 2007 to 2008, DeGraff worked at St. Mary Parish on Greenwich Avenue and other churches in western Connecticut.

We want Lori to explain why he kept silent about child sex abuse allegations against DeGraff in Connecticut in 2008. Even though DFS later deemed the allegation “unsubstantiated,” we feel Lori should have notified the parishioners and the public about it right away. Had that been done, others who may have seen, suspected or suffered DeGraff’s crimes might have contacted law enforcement and the priest’s Canadian victims may have been spared devastating harm.

We also want Lori to personally go to each parish where DeGraff worked, even briefly, and beg those with suspicions or knowledge of his crimes to call police and help prosecutors make sure DeGraff’s kept away from kids.

When DeGraff’s arrest became known, Lori quickly and disingenuously tried to distance himself from the priest by stressing that he isn’t formally a diocesan priest. But Lori let DeGraff work in the Bridgeport area and is responsible for the safety of all Catholics in his diocese. Instead of splitting hairs, parsing words and making excuses, Lori should aggressively be trying to help law enforcement effectively prosecute DeGraff.

Lori is breaking his promises of “transparency” in another way. His formal diocesan abuse policy says "The diocese will maintain a public record, including a website, that lists the names of priests and deacons who have been removed from ministry." But Lori hasn’t updated the public about the status of accused priests since 2003. His continuing secrecy is endangering children now.

Finally, for the sake of public safety, we urge Lori to post on his diocesan website the names, photos and whereabouts of all proven, admitted and credibly accused Bridgeport-area child molesting clerics. Roughly 30 US bishops have done this. We believe this is the least any bishop who wants to protect kids should do.


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