Bishop Presides at Mass for Priest Who Committed Suicide

Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 20, 2002

Clergy at the funeral of a Bridgeport priest who committed suicide after being accused of sexually abusing children prayed Monday that the Rev. Alfred Bietighofer would be remembered for the good he had done.

Bietighofer, 64, was found hanged last week in a Maryland mental health treatment center.

Bridgeport Bishop William Lori presided at the Mass at St. Mary's in Norwalk, where Bietighofer served as pastor from 1988 to 1998. The homily was delivered by the Rev. Gustavo Falla, a friend of Bietighofer.

The diocese said about 750 people attended the funeral, including 100 priests from the area.

Media were not permitted to attend the service. The text of Falla's sermon was posted on the diocese Web site.

"It is of public domain that Father Al was accused of having caused harm to others and we have learned that he did cause harm to himself," Falla said. "For that reason we invoke God's generous mercy, love and forgiveness and we pray that both his faith and good deeds, which will remain forever God's exclusive knowledge, may count in his favor.

"Along with this we pray, indeed, that healing may soon be a reality for all victims and survivors of neglect and abuse who suffer throughout the world," he said.

Bietighofer served as assistant pastor of St. Andrew Church in Bridgeport until he was sent to St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., for psychiatric treatment about three weeks ago. He resigned from his duties April 29, after two men accused him of abusing them in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As the hearse pulled away from the church, protester Luke Lohnen held up a sign reading, "Kid touchers go to hell and burn."

There was no mention of Bietghofer's suicide during Sunday morning services at St. Andrew. A Parish Mass, a memorial service said for deceased priests, was held at St. Mary's Sunday night. Parishioners filled the church and listened to a homily centering on St. Thomas the Apostle, television station WVIT reported.

On Wednesday, a newly formed Catholic Charities Emergency Response Team from the dioceses will visit St. Andrew to meet with parishioners, diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer said.

The eight-member team was formed earlier this month by Lori to respond to help communities deal with sexual assaults involving priests. It consists of a priest and professionals in the fields of behavioral health, counseling, and crisis management.

This will be the third parish visited by the team since it was formed, McAleer said.

Bietighofer was ordained in Bridgeport in 1965. His career spanned 13 assignments to parishes in Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk, Weston and Chiclayo, Peru.

Falla said Bietighofer had a wide variety of personal interests, from the Civil War to immigration issues.

"Although his good deeds never made the headlines, entire families, the sick, the elderly, the poor, the migrant and the marginalized found a close friend in him," Falla said. "He was given the title 'panino' (a child's Spanish for Godfather)."

Falla said it was hard to understand why Bietighofer died.

"I believe we will find no logical answer to this question no matter how hard we try," he said. "It is in here where our human understanding of life will fail. It is in here where we need to count on the divine."


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