Egan Reacts with Silence
Documents Revealed How He Protected Accused Priests

By Eric Rich
Hartford Courant
March 18, 2002,0,7994213.story

[See also Egan Protected Abusive Priests for links to related articles.]

Cardinal Edward M. Egan maintained a resolute silence Sunday as concerned parishioners at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York reacted to revelations that, as a bishop in Connecticut, Egan allowed priests accused of sexual misconduct to remain in the ministry for years.

Egan's refusal to comment on his handling of allegations in his former diocese seemed likely to inflame criticism that, though the most visible ecclesiastical figure in the country, he has failed to assume a public role in the broader abuse scandal now roiling the church.

"He should come forward and address the allegations because it will get worse," said Dan Sullivan. Like others at the cathedral in New York, he had heard details of a report in The Courant on Sunday.

Inside, Egan offered a homily on the importance of faith and of loyalty to the church.

"We see that not all were able to hold on to their faith or certainly to live it as Jesus Christ would have," he said. "And this is why we have a church. We need to come together as a community."

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, a prominent state legislator called the revelations "pretty shocking" and, based on The Courant's report, said that Egan owes victims of sexual abuse in the Bridgeport diocese "at least" an apology.

"That's exactly how people are not supposed to handle those kinds of situations," said state Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the legislature's judiciary committee. "It's the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do."

The Courant reported that Egan failed to thoroughly investigate abuse allegations, did not refer complaints to criminal authorities and - as recently as 1999 - allowed priests to continue working years after allegations of sexual molestation had been made against them.

It was also reported that Egan refused to believe multiple sex-abuse claims against a half-dozen clergy, and testified in sealed court documents that one priest's 12 accusers "have never been proved to be telling the truth."

The report was based on thousands of court documents that were part of the files in the largest sexual abuse scandal involving priests in state history. The documents, which have never been made public and are under a court-ordered seal, were obtained recently by the newspaper.

In Bridgeport, parishioners at the diocese's cathedral, St. Augustine's, said they were concerned and disappointed by the allegations against the man who was their bishop from 1988 to 2000.

"Do I think it's wrong? If he did it, yeah," said Otto Veglio, a lifelong Catholic and former altar boy. "I think he failed the church and I think he failed us if he did it."

Egan's successor, Bishop William Lori, has promised a zero tolerance approach to the sexual abuse of minors and recently announced a review of all 285 active priests and 86 deacons under its auspices.

"We're very blessed to have Bishop Lori," said John Campbell, 42, a parishioner at St. Augustine's. "When the smoke clears and all is said and done, the Catholic Church will still be standing. It has been for 2,000 years."

Indeed, Lori last month suspended the Rev. Charles Carr, one of three priests whose cases The Courant examined closely. Egan had suspended him in 1995 - allegations against the priest stretched back to 1980 - only to reinstate him to ministry at a nursing home several years later.

Egan's silence Sunday stands in sharp contrast to the outspoken role assumed by Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, under fire for his own handling of a priest sexual abuse scandal.

Egan's spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, on Sunday reiterated the church's policy on sexual abuse charges. "If there is reasonable cause to believe the allegations and the victims don't object, we will refer cases to authorities," Zwilling said.

Beyond that, he declined comment. He told a swarm of reporters inside the cathedral that questions should be directed to the Bridgeport diocese. A spokesman for the diocese later declined comment.

Until Sunday, details of the claims brought against six priests in the Bridgeport diocese in the 1990s by 26 plaintiffs, some stretching back more than two decades, were largely concealed from public view. The sealed files revealed that, in addition to those, at least nine other priests faced sex-abuse allegations.

A confidential settlement reached one year ago, for a sum said to be roughly $12 million, brought an end to all the litigation. As part of the settlement, the court file remained closed.

Lawlor said Sunday he believed the disclosures would improve the chances of passage this year of a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions of child molestation to 30 years after the victim's 18th birthday. The bill, as it is written, would apply retroactively - meaning some of the priests named in the Bridgeport cases could potentially face criminal charges.

"You can see the extraordinary lengths to which a variety of people, not just child molesters, went to cover this up," he said. "You can understand why people are reluctant to come forward. They're up against an organization that was prepared to go to great lengths to make sure this doesn't become public."

Outside St. Patrick's in New York, some parishioners said the allegations against Egan reflected a different era - a time when children's claims were more readily dismissed and pedophilia was not necessarily considered a permanent condition.

"We would all have handled it maybe wrongly," said Michael Fitzgerald, from Ireland.

Still, with less prominent clerics now moving swiftly against abusers, they said Egan must address the crisis facing the church if he is to retain his moral authority and credibility.

Dressed in the purple robe of Lent, Egan concluded his sermon with an invocation to St. Patrick.

"Help us to proclaim the strength and to live our life in the Holiness he has taught," he said. "Oh, Patrick, pray for us. Pray for the church."

Courant Staff Writers Dan Haar and Oshrat Carmiel contributed to this story.


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