Bishop Meets on Sex Allegations against Pastor
By Daniel Tepfer
January 23, 2014
|Bishop Frank Caggiano leads Christmas Day Mass at Saint Aloysius Church, in New Canaan, Conn. Dec. 25, 2013. Photo: Ned Gerard | Buy this photo|
Bishop Frank Caggiano huddled privately with parishioners of Our Lady of Grace parish Thursday to apologize for not discussing past allegations of abuse and sexual harassment against their new pastor.
The prior accusations against Monsignor Martin Ryan -- and the potential for scandal -- are shaping up as one of the new bishop's first major dilemmas.
The bishop assured parishioners that Ryan's case had been thoroughly vetted more than a decade ago by the same review board that had recommended the removal of priests during the height of the Bridgeport diocese sex abuse crisis, said Brian Wallace, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese.
The review board had decided that the monsignor should not be removed, Wallace said.
But Ryan, who had been pastor of St. Edward the Confessor Church in New Fairfield since 1992, was removed from that church in June 2011 by diocesan officials after he acknowledged he had sent "inappropriate" emails to a female parish employee. At the time, Wallace said there was no allegation or evidence of any sexual conduct.
In 2003, the diocese agreed to settle a lawsuit claiming that Ryan had molested a teenage girl in the early 1970s at St. Theresa's Church in Trumbull. Ryan denied the allegations and then-Bishop William Lori refused to relieve Ryan of his duties because he did not believe Ryan was a threat to children.
"The first thing he (Caggiano) said was to offer apologies to anyone who had not been briefed in advance," Wallace said of his meeting with Our Lady of Grace parishioners. "He was under the impression they were aware the monsignor had some issues in the past."
Caggiano's appearance in the parish followed a report in Hearst Connecticut Newspapers on the allegations against Ryan.
One church board member, who didn't want his name used, said he was shocked at the published revelations and disturbed the board was not informed.
"I wasn't aware of any of that until I read it in the Connecticut Post," said the board member. "It's shocking."
Caggiano was installed as bishop of the Bridgeport Diocese on Sept. 19, 2013, at St. Theresa's, the church where the earlier allegations against Ryan originated. The Bridgeport Diocese extends from Greenwich up into the Naugatuck Valley, and west to the Danbury area.
The local controversy comes just days after the Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to make public 6,000 pages of documents that demonstrate it concealed sexual abuse by priests for decades.
Our Lady of Grace parishioners approached outside the church earlier Thursday had no comment on their pastor. Ryan was not in the church or rectory at that time, and couldn't be reached for comment.
In a newspaper interview in June 2011, a 49-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld, said she first complained to diocesan officials in March of that year that Ryan was acting inappropriately toward her.
The woman, who had resigned from her job with the church, said Ryan touched her inappropriately on a number of occasions in the church office and also sent her inappropriate emails.
The woman claimed Ryan grabbed her and tried to French-kiss her and grasped her breasts. She pulled away, but the encounter was emotionally upsetting and she cried uncontrollably, she said.
Diocesan officials told her, she said, that Ryan was dealing with "celibacy" issues, according to court documents.