Claiming Sex Abuse, Ex-Students Sue Priest

By Josh Kovner
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
June 6, 2002

Two men who attended St. Augustine School in Hartford in the late 1960s and early 1970s have filed lawsuits alleging the Rev. Daniel F. McSheffery sexually abused them repeatedly while he was director of the school.

A well-known figure in Hartford, McSheffery, 72, once had a day named in his honor by the mayor in 1972. At about the same time, the suits allege, McSheffery was removing boys from class and molesting them in his office and elsewhere.

McSheffery left the Hartford church and school in the 1970s and for the past 16 years has been pastor at St. Augustine Church in North Branford. He was placed on leave late last month after another former student from St. Augustine School wrote a letter to New Haven prosecutors saying he was sexually molested by McSheffery around 1972.

The writer told law officers that he feared other boys were abused by McSheffery at St. Augustine Church on Hartford's Campfield Avenue and at the elementary school on Clifford Street. Hartford prosecutors said they wouldn't pursue a criminal case against McSheffery because the statute of limitations had expired, but that McSheffery could still be sued.

The two men claimed in separate lawsuits filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Hartford that they were sexually molested by McSheffery for years, beginning when they were 9 or 10, in various rooms in the church and school.

Frequently, they said, they were pulled out of class by McSheffery and molested.

The lawsuits name McSheffery, the Archdiocese of Hartford and St. Augustine's church and school in Hartford as defendants.

The plaintiffs' names were sealed from public view by a Superior Court judge at the request of attorney Hubert Santos, who represents both men. Santos declined to comment beyond the lawsuits and would not say what prompted the men to come forward.

Their names are known to the defendants in the case, but for the time being they're referred to in the public file as John Doe and John Roe. That is a common occurrence in abuse cases, where disclosure could cause extreme embarrassment and emotional harm.

Santos has asked the court to set aside a total of $4 million in case the men win a judgment. Santos has moved to attach a beachfront house that, according to land records, McSheffery owns on Beach Road West in Old Saybrook. The property was assessed at $212,000 in 1995, about 70 percent of the market value.

The men, 41 and 42, live in Middletown and the Hartford area, respectively. They were a year apart in school. Both said in the lawsuits that the ordeal deprived them of an adolescence and has infected many aspects of their adult lives. They said it has damaged their ability to have close relationships and has led to alcohol abuse, recurring nightmares and severe mental anguish.

In his lawsuit, the 41-year-old man recalls running into McSheffery years after leaving St. Augustine.

"I have confronted Father McSheffery about these incidents [when I saw him later] in Guilford and when he appeared at my mother's funeral. He denied any wrongdoing and claimed there was a misunderstanding."

The man, a former altar boy, alleges a pattern of abuse.

"On one occasion, he put me on the counter in a room located behind the altar, put his hands down my pants and masturbated himself. On other occasions, he called me out of class at the school, placed me on his lap, and dry-humped me to orgasm. On many occasions, he placed me in his lap and caressed me in an inappropriate manner."

The 42-year-old man, a former altar boy, alleges, "Starting on or about 1969 to late 1974 or early 1975, Father McSheffery sexually abused me on many occasions ... in the church, the church rectory and the school."

"On one occasion, I became so distraught I banged my face against the marble wall in the boys room. Father McSheffery called my father, and after he arrived, said to him: 'I don't know what is wrong with your son, but you have to do something about it.' Father McSheffery then walked away."

Santos asserts that the archdiocese, the church and the school "knew or should have known that [McSheffery] was subjecting the plaintiffs and other minor children to repeated sexual abuse on premises within their ownership or control" yet took no action.

The suits say the archdiocese also "failed to adequately provide appropriate counseling for priests who had problems dealing with the constraints of celibacy."

McSheffery could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He was pastor at St. George Church in Guilford for many years before going to the North Branford parish. The Rev. John P. Gatzak, spokesman for the archdiocese, said McSheffery would remain on administrative leave indefinitely.

In the 1960s and 1970s, McSheffery distinguished himself at St. Augustine Church in Hartford. In 1972, he was the first clergyman in the Hartford archdiocese to be given the new title of associate pastor, empowering him to perform the functions of pastor of St. Augustine when the regular pastor was away.

At a 1972 dinner marking the appointment and honoring McSheffery, then-Attorney General Robert Killian called the event that drew 600 people "an outpouring of respect and affection" for McSheffery. George Athanson, Hartford's mayor at the time, proclaimed a "Father McSheffery Day."

While serving at St. Augustine in Hartford, McSheffery also was director of the parish's school, chaplain in the Hartford Fire Department, a member of the Hartford Catholic School Board, chairman of the Hartford Catholic School Administrators' Association and chaplain of the St. Augustine's Girls' and Boys' Brigades.

Gatzak said no one at the archdiocese had seen the lawsuits, and he couldn't comment on the allegations.

"The archdiocese intends to allow the legal process to go forward and the matter be decided in the courts," Gatzak said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.