Broken Life Blamed on Abuse by Priest

By Daniel Tepfer
Connecticut Post Online
August 4, 2006

Earlier this week, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport acknowledged for the first time it had paid a settlement on a claim of sexual abuse against the Rev. James J. Gildea, who died in 1986. Since that story ran, the Connecticut Post has located a second man, Peter Philipp of Ansonia, who also received a settlement from the diocese for claimed abuse by Gildea. His story follows.

BRIDGEPORT -- Peter Philipp of Ansonia acknowledges there is a certain irony in the fact that he works at the very school where he says he was abused 38 years ago.

"At some level I do it as a statement that I am not going to let him win, but also, possibly as a reaction to what to happened me I feel I have to protect other kids," the religion teacher at Notre Dame High School says.

In August 2002, Philipp, who had not sued the Bridgeport Diocese, agreed to take a settlement from them.

"I wasn't thinking about a settlement at all, I just wanted to tell what happened to me," he says. Former diocese lawyer "Mike Dolan told me the statute of limitations had passed," Philipp says. "Then he asked me if I was looking for a settlement."

"At that time I had $22,000 in unpaid therapy bills and I was still going," he says. "Mike Dolan gave me a check; we shook hands."

Philipp says the check was for about $60,000. "My therapist was grateful getting the money."

He says he never heard a word from Bishop William Lori.

"There was a settlement made with this gentleman," diocese lawyer James Stapleton says. "There was nothing in the file of Father Gildea either at the school or the diocese regarding any complaints of abuse. All the complaints were made after his death. These settlements are made with a denial of liability but to spare the diocese of the expense of litigating these claims."

Gildea, a pastor of the Holy Cross Fathers, was a teacher and guidance counselor at Notre Dame for more than 30 years.

Philipp grew up in Bridgeport, the fourth of 10 children.

"We were very Catholic people and my parents got involved in Notre Dame," he says.

Phillip says he was abused by Gildea beginning when he was 7 or 8. He says Gildea would take him to the swimming pool used by the fathers of Holy Cross.

"I just remember him pulling off my bathing suit and keeping it. I would be this little kid standing off to the side shivering, waiting for something to happen," he says.

When Philipp became a freshman at Notre Dame in 1964 he used to do the dishes at the residence of the Holy Cross fathers. He says Gildea would take him to a small room behind the stage in the former Sacred Heart High School to help him grade tests.

"We would go there and correct these tests and he would talk about school and sometimes he would grab me and push me to the floor," he says. "Once I was on the floor he was absolutely in control."

Then, Philipp says, Gildea molested him. He says Gildea abused him for two years. "I never had anything to do with him again. But I was always afraid of him."

Philipp says when Gildea died in July 1986 he went to the funeral home and asked if he could see the body. "The funeral director probably thought I was distraught with grief over Gildea's death so he left me alone with the casket."

He says he went right up and grabbed Gildea's hand to make sure he was dead. Philipp says he tried to repress the memory of what Gildea did to him, but he wasn't able to. His memories kept bubbling up destroying any chance for relationships. He says he began drinking heavily in an effort to forget and his life began spiraling downward.

In 1990, he spent three months at the Institute of Living in Hartford.

"I could have continued to drink and something bad would have ended up happening. Not only did I feel I was the only person sexually abused by Gildea, I thought I was the only person ever abused by a priest," he says.

With the help of therapy, he says he was able to get his life together and later worked at a hospice and a transitional living center.

"Recently I woke up and realized I'm 56 years old," Philipp says, in explaining why he came forward with his story. "And I have limited time and I lost a lot of that because of Gildea. I drank and when you drink nobody likes you. I haven't had a drink in 20 years. I can't spend the next years like I spent the first part of my life -- afraid, afraid, afraid."



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