City Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse
Hartford Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse in Lawsuit

By Gerald Renner
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
March 11, 1993

A Hartford priest is accused of sexually abusing three students when he was a chaplain and teacher at Northwest Catholic High School in the 1970s.

The priest, the Rev. Ivan Ferguson, 58, is named in a civil lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Hartford and made public Wednesday.

The Archdiocese of Hartford and Northwest Catholic, but not the priest himself, are named as defendants.

The complaint was served on agents for the archdiocese and high school last Friday.

Ferguson, a staff chaplain since 1985 at Hartford Hospital, has an unlisted telephone number.

The archdiocese said in a statement last night that Ferguson is being placed on administrative leave in anticipation of publicity.

"We understand an article will be published in The Hartford Courant tomorrow morning concerning this lawsuit," said the statement from the Rev. John P. Gatzak, an archdiocesan spokesman.

"In anticipation of that publicity and because of its probable effect on Father Ferguson's ability to carry out his current duties in an effective manner, father is being placed on an administrative leave."

The statement said, "We are deeply troubled by the nature of the allegations set forth in this lawsuit. We are also very concerned about all of the individuals who are alleged to have been involved. The church does not and has never condoned the type of conduct described in this lawsuit."

Gatzak said he declined further comment on the advice of lawyers.

The lawsuit says that the archdiocese and the high school were negligent in hiring and failing to train and use reasonable care in supervising Ferguson.

"They should have known that employing him in a position of trust and authority would be a danger to young boys with whom he would have contact," the lawsuit says.

The three men say in the complaint that the priest "repeatedly sexually molested" them between 1975 and 1978.

They are identified only as John A., John B. and John C. Doe, but their identities have been made known to church authorities in separate letters, said their lawyer, Thomas M. McNamara of New Haven.

"We used John Doe because there is no reason to victimize these guys any further," McNamara said.

While children usually are not identified in such lawsuits, the names of adults who bring lawsuits usually are made public.

"The Connecticut law process allows you to bring suits anonymously unless the other side objects. The court would have the final say if it is contested," McNamara said.

He said the three plaintiffs are all under the age of 35, a new maximum age for bringing such lawsuits. State law once prohibited lawsuits alleging abuse as children unless they were filed within seven years of the alleged abuse and before the victim turned 20. In 1991, the legislature, recognizing that young victims of sexual abuse may be unable to deal with the memories for decades, extended the statute of limitations to permit victims to sue until the age of 35.

In the case of two of the complainants, the sexual molestation took place at Northwest Catholic or at school-related events, McNamara said. The third man was a student at the school, but he accuses Ferguson of having sexually abused him outside of school activities, so the school is not a defendant in his case. The lawyer declined to elaborate further.

The three men, who live in Hartford, Canton and Vernon, were reluctant to come forward earlier "out of a sense of guilt, shame and embarrassment and also because they are up against an institution like the church -- and who is to believe them over the word of a man of God?" McNamara said.

The lawyer said that the three were emboldened to press their case against Ferguson now by the example of other people who have come forward against clergymen who abused them.

He mentioned in particular the case against James R. Porter, a former priest in Fall River, Mass., who has been accused by 80 people in five states of having sexually molested them when they were children in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Porter, 58, lived in suburban St. Paul with his wife and their four children until he was sentenced in January to six months in jail for fondling his children's baby sitter five years ago.

"My feeeling is that was such a well-publicized case, I think that was a real catalyst in getting people to come forward," McNamara said.

Ferguson has been a priest who specialized in youth ministry until he joined the chaplaincy staff of Hartford Hospital eight years ago.

Born in Brooklyn, N. Y., July 14, 1934, he was ordained in 1970 after attending Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell and the Catholic University of America in Washington.

While a teacher and chaplain at Northwest Catholic, he also was in charge of youth activities and altar boys at St. Bernard's Church in the Tariffville section of Simsbury. He was associate pastor of St. Mary's Church in Derby from 1980 to 1982 and also was chaplain at the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy in Milford.

From 1982 to 1985 he was a priest in charge of youth activities of St. Matthew Church in the Forestville section of Bristol.

Ferguson is the fourth Catholic priest in Connecticut to be accused since January of having sexually molested young people.

A lawsuit was filed in Superior Court in Bridgeport in January against the Rev. Raymond S. Pcolka, 53. Fifteen adults say he raped and sodomized them at churches in Stratford and Bridgeport between 1966 and 1982.

Also in January, in Superior Court in New Haven, a 21-year-old man sued the Rev. Felix H. Maguire, 66, former pastor of St. Therese's Church in North Haven, saying that the priest sexually assaulted him when he was 15.

The Rev. Kieran Ahearn, 55, of St. Mary Church in Bethel was arrested by Massachusetts police on charges of indecent assault on a minor when he was on a skiing vacation. He pleaded not guilty Jan. 21 in Southern Berkshire District Court in Great Barrington, Mass.


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