Priests' Victims to Get $20M
Deal Ends Sex Claims against Diocese by 40 People

By Daniel Tepfer
Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT)
October 16, 2003

BRIDGEPORT - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport has agreed to pay $20 million to 40 people who say 16 diocesan priests sexually abused them when they were children.

The latest settlement, reached Wednesday, results in a total of nearly $40 million that the diocese will pay to victims of priest abuse. Two years ago, it paid $15 million to 24 people who claimed to have been abused by priests in the diocese.

Diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer on Wednesday confirmed a settlement had been reached, but would not comment on the specifics. He said those would be announced at a press conference this afternoon at the Catholic Center.

A large unknown is where the diocese is getting funds for the latest settlement. Sources say the diocese has been selling off property but this has not been confirmed.

"The question in everybody's mind is where is the money coming from. I think people do not trust the explanation of the diocese," said Joseph O'Callaghan, president of the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful.

This group of Catholics

set up in response to the priestly scandal

has established its own charitable fund to ensure their members' donations don't go to paying abuse settlements. They recently gave money to the Thomas Merton House and Family Stages in Bridgeport.

The latest settlement ends 10 years of legal wrangling between diocese officials and lawyers for victims.

Many victims claimed in lawsuits against the diocese that their parents had complained about the abuse to diocesan officials at the time of the incidents and were told it would "be taken care of."

Instead, they say, the offending priests were not disciplined and were moved to other parishes, where they abused more children.

Court documents obtained by the Connecticut Post show that New York Cardinal Edward Egan, when appointed bishop of the Bridgeport Diocese in the mid 1980s, was informed of the abuse claims, but didn't take any action against the priests until 1993, when the first lawsuit was filed.

Lawyers for the 40 victims in the settlement, Jason Tremont and Cindy Robinson, also declined comment Wednesday.

Sources say the settlement earlier in the day came after numerous meetings between the plaintiffs' lawyers and diocesan officials, mediated by U.S. Magistrate William Garfinkel since last year.

The sources said Garfinkel also met individually with each victim to determine if their allegations were credible.

The victims, a majority of whom were altar boys, claimed they'd been abused from the 1960s to 1980s at churches and rectories all over the diocese.

In March 2001, the diocese and then-Bishop Egan agreed to settle claims of abuse by 24 people for $15 million. Over the years, several other suits have been resolved, bringing the total to $40 million.

The first major payout, also the result of Garfinkel's mediation, came after eight years of contentious legal battling between the diocese and lawyers for Tremont and Sheldon.

Since the 1990s, 20 priests in the diocese have been suspended for alleged abuse dating back to the 1960s.

Many of the priests named in the first settlement also figure in the new cases. An expansion of the state statute of limitations for lawsuits resulted in many older cases being brought forward.

Priests named in the newest settlement include: the Revs. Charles Stubbs, Martin Federici, Joseph Gorecki, Alfred Bietighofer, Raymond Pcolka, Richard Grady, Stanley Bonaszek, Henry Albecke, John DeShan, William Donovan, Vincent Veich, Sherman Gray, Albert McGoldrick, Robert Morrissey, Martin Ryan and W. Phillip Coleman.

Gorecki and Grady died of natural causes. Bietighofer hanged himself in May 2002 at a Maryland psychiatric hospital, weeks after being accused of molesting four altar boys at Blessed Sacrament Church in Bridgeport in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Federici, accused of molesting boys at Assumption Church in Westport, St. Ambrose Church in Bridgeport, St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull and St. Thomas Church in Norwalk, agreed to leave the priesthood last May. He lives in a condominium on North Avenue in Bridgeport.

In 1988, DeShan initiated a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl while assigned to St. Augustine's Cathedral.

The girl became pregnant in 1989 and DeShan was subsequently laicized, or dismissed, from the priesthood. He now teaches elementary school in New Jersey.

Ryan, accused of molesting three teenaged girls at St. Theresa's Parish in Trumbull in the mid-1970s, remains an active priest. His last assignment was at St. Joseph the Confessor Church in New Fairfield.

All the other priests named in the settlement have been suspended.


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