Norwich diocese admits mistake, removes priest who championed gay rights from list of those accused of sexual abuse

By Dave Altimari
Hartford Courant
February 22, 2019

Richard J. Cardarelli


Norwich diocese admits mistake, removes priest who championed gay rights from list of those accused of sexual abuse

A priest who championed equal rights and sometimes secretly celebrated Mass with gays in church basements was mistakenly placed on a list of priests “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors, the Norwich Diocese said Thursday.

In a one-sentence press release, diocese spokesman Wayne Gignac said that Richard J. Cardarelli “appeared on the original list in error. There are NO allegations of sexual abuse of a minor on file.” The church also acknowledged that three other priests should have been placed on the list. Gignac said the diocese wouldn’t comment further.

For Steven Cardarelli, putting his brother’s name on that list was the church’s final tormenting of his brother, who died in 2012. Richard Cardarelli was was hailed by many as a hero for his support of gay rights, advocacy that resulted in his excommunication from the Catholic Church.

“No apologies to the family just, 'Oh we made a mistake, what can you do? '” an emotional Steven Cardarelli said through tears during a telephone interview Thursday night.

“This caused tremendous heartache knowing what he was and what he fought for his whole life and how the church constantly tormented him in life and now also in death.” Cardarelli said.

Richard Cardarelli was a Capuchin Franciscan monk, recognizable by their brown robes, sandals, and rope belt with three knots — signifying chastity, poverty, and obedience. He eventually was ordained a priest. At one point, he was assigned to St. Pius X Church in Middletown, where he started ministering to gays and lesbians who were not welcomed in Roman Catholic churches. Cardarelli also was the Chaplain of Mercy High School in Middletown, a job he would later refer to as “the best job I ever had.”

In 1975, he founded the Hartford Chapter of Dignity and became its chaplain, and celebrated Mass in church basements on Sunday nights in the Middletown area. He then went on to work for Genesis in Manchester, a group that assists mentally challenged adults live independently.

He also taught at Central Connecticut State University and when he died, Steven Cardarelli said they took many of his brother’s letters, writings and papers to add to an exhibit titled the GLBTQ archives in the Elihu Burritt Library. The library’s website says there are several significant collections, including the following: John Loughery, Richard Cardarelli, George W. Henry, Christine Pattee, The Connecticut Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights, and the Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Gignac didn’t respond to requests for more information on how long Cardarelli served in the Norwich Diocese or how his name came to be placed on the list of credibly accused priests that it released last week.

The list includes 22 priests who were ordained in the Diocese of Norwich and later accused of abuse while working in the diocese. Among them are priests, such as Richard T. Buongirno and Thomas W. Shea, who were sued by multiple victims. There are also seven priests who belonged to religious orders and served in the diocese and 12 priests who served or resided in the diocese but were accused of sexual abuse while serving in another diocese.

Cardarelli was included among the seven priests who belonged to religious orders.

Steven Cardarelli said he was shocked when he saw his brother’s name listed as an abuser in a television report.

“I am so happy to get this call because I knew for a fact it couldn’t be true." Steven Cardarelli said. “The church didn’t like that there wasn’t a protest or a march for gay rights across the country that my brother didn’t get involved in.”

Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote followed the lead of the state’s two other dioceses — Hartford and Bridgeport — which already have released their rosters of accused priests. Cote also announced that, since July 1, 1977, the Diocese of Norwich has paid almost $7.7 million in settlements to victims in connection with nine cases. The diocese didn’t release which priests the lawsuits had been filed against and there are no records that anyone ever sued Richard Cardarelli alleging abuse.

But unlike Bridgeport and Hartford, Cote has not committed to hiring an independent source to review all of the diocese personnel files and make an separate report. Both Bridgeport and Hartford have hired retired state judges to conduct such reviews. There were two priests — Louis Paturzo and Bruno Primavera — who spent time in both the Norwich diocese and the Hartford Archdiocese.

After the Norwich diocese released its list, Gail Howard, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), held a press conference and questioned whether the list was complete and said it had found a few priests that should have been on the list.

The diocese didn’t comment on SNAP’s allegations but on Thursday, in addition to taking Cardarelli off the list, it added the names of three priests it said should have been on it. Gignac said those priests are:

George St. Jean, OMI; Date of Ordination Unknown (Oblates of Mary Immaculate); Left Diocese in 1962; Deceased 1982.

Joseph Owens, SJ; Ordained 1971 (Society of Jesus); Resided in Diocese, assigned by religious superiors to work not affiliated with the Diocese of Norwich. Diocese has no other information.

John F. Dority, OFM; Ordained Feb. 18, 1967 (Order of Friars Minor); Granted Indult of Departure from Religious Order and returned to the Lay State 1980; Resides in the Diocese of Norwich but has never been affiliated with the Diocese in any capacity.

Owens and St. Jean were two of the priests that SNAP had publicly said belonged on the list.

“I don’t know how with the obsessive-compulsive record keeping the Catholic Church does that they can’t get a list this important right,” Howard said.



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