Former Parishioners Accuse Priest of Sexual Misconduct

Associated Press, carried in Hartford Courant
June 24, 1998

A Manchester priest has been accused in three civil lawsuits of having sexual relationships with three former parishioners of a Newington church when they were girls.

The Rev. Peter J. Zizka, now pastor of St. Bartholomew's Church on Ludlow Road in Manchester, is alleged to have had repeated encounters with the three girls over several years, when he was a priest at the Church of The Holy Spirit in Newington during the 1970s.

Two of the lawsuits, by Paula Linda Reed, 36, of Lebanon and Michelle Reynolds, 37, of Canton, Mich., were filed Nov. 14, 1995, in Hartford Superior Court, and were only recently unsealed by a judge.

Reed, contacted at her Lebanon home Tuesday, said the reason she kept silent for so many years is "basically because of fear" that no one would believe her.

Now raising her own family, Reed said she felt compelled to take action.

"I feel it's necessary for me to do something about it because I don't want other children abused," she said.

Attorneys for Zizka, Reed and Reynolds agreed in 1995 to allow the files to remain sealed for six weeks, said Van Allen Starkweather, the Manchester lawyer representing Reed. The court clerk's office, however, continued to treat the files as sealed after the six- week period ended.

When Starkweather took over the case from the original attorney about a year ago, the Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp. contacted him and asked that they keep the files sealed while the parties worked on a settlement, Starkweather said.

But the settlement fell through and Starkweather then filed a motion to open the files, at the request of his client and Reynolds, he said. Reynolds is being represented by attorney John A. Collins III of New London.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Julia L. Aurigemma said in her May 28 decision to unseal the cases that the diocese did not show how its claim that Zizka's reputation would be sullied outweighed the public's right to see the files.

Both Reynolds and Reed allege in their separate lawsuits that during individual counseling sessions with Zizka, he began kissing and fondling them. Both say the sexual activity progressed to intercourse.

Reynolds was 16 at the time; Reed, 13. Both say the sexual activity continued for several years, until approximately September 1979, when Zizka was transferred to St. Paul's Church in Glastonbury, the lawsuit says.

A third lawsuit, filed in New Haven Superior Court last year by a woman listed only as Jane Doe, also alleges Zizka sexually abused her at the Newington church when she was around 13 years old. It was unclear if that alleged abuse included sexual intercourse. Cynthia C. Bott, the New Haven lawyer representing Jane Doe, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Monsignor Charles Johnson, a spokesman for the Hartford Roman Catholic Diocese, reading from a statement, said: "We are deeply troubled by the allegations set forth in these lawsuits. We are also very concerned about the welfare of all the individuals who are alleged to have been involved.

The church does not and has never condoned the type of conduct described in these lawsuits." Zizka could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Joseph T. Sweeney, former president of the parish council at St. Bartholomew's, said the archdiocese removed Zizka for 90 days in the fall of 1993 so he could undergo psychological evaluations. But Zizka was allowed to return.

"Father Zizka has been our pastor at St. Bartholomew's for a little more than seven and a half years. During that seven and a half years, he's been a very marvelous priest," Sweeney said. "This man has an ability to lift our minds and hearts collectively."


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