The Hartford Archdiocese has agreed to pay a former altar boy at a New Haven church $500,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging former priest Stephen Bzdyra molested the boy over a three-year period in the 1980s.
The case was scheduled to go to trial next month, but on Wednesday New Haven attorney Joel Faxon announced that his client, William Dotson, had settled the case for $500,000. Unlike many lawsuits against the church where the plaintiff uses a pseudonym, Dotson allowed his name to be public.
"The plaintiff's position has always been that the Diocese should have taken action to eliminate Bzdyra's ongoing and serious threat to children within the Diocese — especially to our client William Dotson, who Bzdyra repeatedly sexually abused over the course of several years," said Timothy P. Pothin, an attorney with Faxon Law Group in New Haven.
The lawsuit, initially filed in 2010, alleged that while Dotson was an altar boy at St. Francis Church in New Haven in the 1980s, Bzdyra molested him repeatedly in the church rectory. The lawsuit also accused Bzdyra of paying Dotson hush money, including buying him a car and a new washer and dryer.
Bzdyra also threatened to report Dotson's mother to state and local officials for having too many jobs if he revealed the abuse, saying he would be taken away from his family, according to the lawsuit.
Bzdyra, who most recently served at St. Augustine Church in Seymour, was placed on leave by the Archdiocese of Hartford after the lawsuit was filed in 2010.
The diocese and Bzdyra have repeatedly denied the allegations of sexual assault. But early in the case a Superior Court judge ruled that because there was more than enough evidence to support Dotson's allegations he was going to attach $10 million of Bzdyra's assets to ensure that he didn't sell off any property or other assets while the case was pending.
In a press release announcing the settlement, Faxon said the case turned when evidence surfaced that the archdiocese may have been made aware of Bzdyra's actions in the 1980s and did nothing about it.
Faxon said a Catholic nun testified that while serving at St. Francis, she not only witnessed Bzdyra's "disturbing and inappropriate" behavior toward an altar boy in the mid-1980s but even sent a letter to diocesan authorities expressing her deep concerns.
Maria Zone, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Hartford, said Wednesday that it's the policy of the archdiocese not to comment on specific cases or settlements.
"Notably, since 2002 the Archdiocese of Hartford has followed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The purpose of this Charter is to provide a safe, protective environment for children, young people and others who might be vulnerable," Zone said in a statement.
"The Charter requires mandatory background checks for all personnel who encounter minors and vulnerable adults. All Archdiocesan, parish, and school employees and volunteers must participate in a sexual abuse awareness and prevention program," she said.
Faxon said that Bzdyra was named a defendant in the lawsuit as well, and that the case against him has been settled for an undisclosed amount of money.
New Haven attorney Hugh Keefe, who represented Bzdyra, could not be reached for comment.