13 Nov 2010

Connecticut Diocese forced to unseal secret clergy sex abuse documents after 7 year legal fight

The Hartford Courant - December 1, 2009

Cardinal Edward Egan Protected Abusive Priests At Victims' Expense

Secret Documents On Priest Abuse Released After Seven Year Battle

By DAVE ALTIMARI | Hartford Courant

"Claims are claims. Allegations are allegations."

Those six words uttered by retired Cardinal Edward M. Egan during two depositions neatly sum up his approach to handling the burgeoning priest sexual abuse scandal that he inherited when he took over the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut in the late 1980s.

>> Transcript of Oct. 7, 1997 Videotaped Deposition of Bishop Edward Egan
>> Transcript of Sept. 23, 1999 Videotaped Deposition of Bishop Edward Egan

In 448 pages of depositions that Egan was forced to give as part of 23 lawsuits against seven priests that eventually were settled, the Bishop showed little compassion for the alleged victims and instead argued with attorney's that only a "remarkably small number" of priests have ever been accused of wrongdoing.

"These things (sexual abuse complaints) happen in such small numbers. It's marvelous when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have ever been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything,'' Egan said.

"Claims are one thing. One does not take every claim against a human being as a proved misdeed. I'm interested in proved misdeeds.''

Egan's depositions taken in 1997 and 1999 were supposed to remain sealed forever when the diocese settled the cases in 2001. The Hartford Courant obtained copies of them in 2002 and published several stories about them. But on Tuesday for the first time some documents were made available to the public after a seven-year court battle by the Bridgeport Diocese to keep them secret.

But in releasing the documents, the diocese withheld nearly 1,500 pages, saying the records were privileged under state and federal law and still subject to a seal order.

The withheld documents include 685 pages taken from priests' personnel files, and documents identifying two "John Doe" priests whose names have not been publicly released -- documents that originally had been entered in court only for "in camera" review by a judge.

In ordering the diocese to release the records, the state Supreme Court in June had identified 15 documents that could remain confidential. But the court also let stand a trial judge's ruling sealing the "in camera" documents, saying the newspapers had not challenged that seal order.

The diocese also asserted in a court document filed Tuesday that disclosure of the withheld records was barred by attorney-client privilege, confidentiality of personnel and medical records, confidentiality of statements made to clergy and Constitutional protections against government interference with churches.

"For example, the disclosure of information related to the evaluation of a clergy member's suitability for ministry or for a particular assignment," the diocese wrote, "would be in violation of the Religion Clauses under the Federal and State Constitutions."

Those are some of the same legal arguments the diocese made in seeking to block disclosure of the documents -- a fight that appeared to end a month ago when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the diocese's appeal of a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling ordering most of the documents released.

The state Supreme Court had identified 15 documents that could remain sealed. But the diocese claimed in court papers Tuesday that no court had ever overturned earlier rulings sealing various records -- including the nearly 700 pages of personnel records.

Egan's depositions were released Tuesday. The documents contain depositions from the hierarchy of the diocese, including Egan's predecessor Walter Curtis, who not only acknowledged keeping secret files on priests but also that he deliberately destroyed alleged complaints of sexual abuse against some of them because the complaints were "antiquated."

Many of the complaints date back to the late 1960s and 1970s and church officials dismissed much of it as old news while emphasizing that the diocese has undergone a culture change regarding the knowledge of and ability to deal with sexual abuse.

"Contrary to the naysayers, this is very old news. Between 1993 and 2002, more than 200 media reports were published about these and other cases, including extensive Hartford Courant coverage in 2002 in an article that published, without permission, many of the sealed documents. The coverage included the names of the accused priests, critiques of the Diocese's handling of the complaints, victims' accounts, and many other details,'' the diocese said in a statement.

Of the seven priests involved in the lawsuits one -- Joseph Gorecki -- has died. Five priests -- Charles Carr, Raymond Pcolka, Laurence Brett, Martin Federici and Philip Coleman--have been removed from the priesthood. One priest, Joseph Malloy was exonerated, according to the Bridgeport diocese and is currently the Pastor at the St. Clement of Rome Parish in Stamford, Conn.

Egan left to become the Archbishop of New York shortly after the lawsuits were settled. He went on to be named a Cardinal and retired earlier this year.

Critics of the diocese have said that they fought for nearly seven years to keep the documents sealed to protect Egan's reputation while he was still active. The diocese appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided earlier this year not to take up the case, paving the way for Waterbury Superior Court Judge Barry Stevens to finally unseal the files.

Only 15 documents will remain sealed because the state Supreme Court ruled they were not submitted as legal documents. Attorneys for the diocese on Tuesday also submitted to Stevens a list of other documents they believe are privileged and should remain sealed that Stevens must rule on.

During his deposition with attorneys from Tremont and Sheldon, the Bridgeport firm that filed the lawsuits, Egan comes off as dismissive, argumentative and at times condescending.

The documents show that Egan failed to investigate aggressively some abuse allegations, reassigned priests that he knew had allegations made against them and in general downplayed allegations made against many of the priests.

At one point, Egan said he wasn't interested in allegations -- only "realities." He added that "very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything'' against a priest.

For example, regarding a dozen people who made complaints of sexual abuse and violence against Pcolka, of Greenwich, Egan said, "the 12 have never been proved to be telling the truth."

Egan also acknowledges that he never attempted to seriously investigate the truth of such allegations -- accusers were not interviewed, witnesses were not sought, and no attempt was made to learn of other possible victims.

Egan allowed Pcolka to continue working as a priest until 1993, when he suspended him after Pcolka refused an order from Egan to go to the Institute of Living in Hartford for psychiatric treatment. Egan referred to the Institute as his "preferred" place to send priests who needed counseling.

His handling of complaints made against Carr was no different, the records show.

Despite a May 1990 memo by a diocese official worrying about "a developing pattern of accusations" that Rev. Charles Carr of Norwalk had fondled young boys, Egan kept Carr working as a priest until 1995, when he suspended him only after a lawsuit was filed.

Egan's aide, Vicar Laurence R. Bronkiewicz, wrote a sympathetic note to Carr.

"Trusting that you understand the reasons for these actions, I join Bishop Egan in praying that the Lord will bless you with the graces you need at this time in your life," Bronkiewicz said.

Egan actually reinstated Carr in 1999 as a part-time chaplain at a church-run nursing home in Danbury. But after yet another accusation against Carr surfaced in 2002, about an incident from long ago, then-newly installed Bishop William Lori finally defrocked Carr last month and referred him to state child protection authorities. Carr is no longer a priest.

The documents also show that Egan inherited the priest abuse scandal from Curtis, who admitted he deliberately shuffled pedophile priests among parishes to give them a "fresh start." Records show that seven priests accused of sexual misconduct were at one time assigned to St. Teresa's Church in Trumbull between 1965-1990.

Curtis, who is now deceased, was deposed three times. He also admitted he did not think that pedophilia was a permanent condition.

Curtis viewed pedophilia as "an occasional thing" and not a serious psychological problem and was more concerned with weeding out potential gays among clergy applicants.

"We had a policy in this sense, that before a candidate was accepted for study for the priesthood, [they] would have psychological testing, and if there appeared signs of homosexuality, he wouldn't be accepted," Curtis testified.

Curtis also testified that records of complaints against priests would usually be put into the diocese's "secret archive," a canonically required cache of historical documents accessed only with keys kept by the bishop and the vicar.

He said he would occasionally go into the archive and remove what he called "antiquated" abuse complaints, and destroy them.

One of the priests that Curtis protected was Brett, who was moved around not only the Bridgeport Diocese but also to several others including Sacramento and Baltimore before he was finally removed as a priest by Egan in the 1990s.

Along the way he abused dozens of boys and even admitted to Bridgeport church officials to biting the penis of a student at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield during non-consensual oral sex.

Brett was confronted and subsequently ordered to leave the diocese. He traveled the country in seeming exile, but was permitted to continue as a priest under the auspices of the Bridgeport diocese, first under Curtis and later under Egan.

When he was removed by the diocese in 1964 church officials wrote in a memo that if any parishioners asked about Brett's sudden absence that "hepatitis was to be feigned" as a cover.

During his deposition Egan argued with the plaintiff's attorneys who claimed the memo showed the church was trying to hide Brett.

"I would read it that this man is going away, and if anyone asks, say he's not well, he has hepatitis. That's quite a bit different than saying you are going to hide it," Egan said.

Egan added that he wouldn't have made up an excuse about a priest's absence, preferring instead to simply tell anyone who inquired that it was none of their business.

Egan allowed Brett to continue working as a priest outside of the diocese until February 1993, three months after receiving additional allegations of sexual misconduct against Brett from the 1960s.

When the allegations came in, Egan's aide, Bronkiewicz, wrote a letter alerting the archdiocese in Baltimore, where Brett had been assigned, and assuring the public knew nothing about the latest allegations against Brett.

"At the present time, we have no reason to believe the accuser of Father Brett intends to take legal action of any kind, and there has been no publicity concerning the accusation," Bronkiewicz wrote.

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Connecticut Post - November 30, 2009

Diocesan documents on clergy sex abuse to be released
Unsealing of documents ends battle by Bridgeport Diocese to keep data secret

By Michael P. Mayko | POST STAFF WRITER

Parishioners in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport -- and the public at large -- may get their first look at how Bishops Walter Curtis and Edward Egan dealt with accusations that diocesan priests abused children over more than three decades when nearly 12,000 pages of secret documents are released Tuesday.

Unsealing the documents ends a seven-year-long legal battle that began in state Superior Court when several newspapers filed suit to force their release. The dispute wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices last month refused to hear the diocese's appeal to keep the documents private.

The battle is now over.

"The diocese intends to comply with the court order regarding the release of the documents," Joseph McAleer, the spokesman for the diocese, said Monday.

The documents are expected to detail complaints of sexual abuse by priests which were brought to the attention of the two former Bridgeport bishops and their subordinates. Others will disclose how the bishops and other diocesan officials responded to the allegations. Some of the cases are believed to date back to the 1960s.

But Cindy Robinson, whose law firm represented 24 of the 26 plaintiffs who sued the diocese and received an approximately $15 million settlement, said not every document will be released. "Certain ones will remain sealed," she said.

In October 2003, the diocese paid another $21 million to settle another set of abuse claims.

Groups like Voice of the Faithful and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which advocate for the abused, believe the documents will be an eye-opening account of the way the late Curtis and Egan, who recently retired as archbishop of New York, dealt with the allegations as well as abusive clergy, some of whom were reassigned to other parishes as a means of sidestepping scandal.

"Bishop Egan and Curtis deliberately tried to suppress the allegations and didn't treat survivors very well," said Joseph O'Callaghan, a Norwalk member of Voice of the Faithful. "Subordinates who worked for the bishops, collaborated with the bishops in keeping this information secret. The moral authority of the bishops will be totally undermined."

O'Callaghan pointed out that the Catholic religion teaches confession is "good for the soul. There needs to be full disclosure and a full-blown atonement by the bishops and their subordinates."

He further said this is the type of situation that calls for public penance by all involved.

"I think these documents will disclose some information that is really compelling about the bishops and their priests," said Beth McCabe, a co-leader of SNAP's Connecticut chapter. "They're going to tell how the officials turned their backs and would not deal with it (clergy abuse) and then went on to fight their release ..."

But McAleer warned that the documents may not contain much new information.

"This is very old news," he said. "Between 1993 and 2002 more than 200 media reports were published about these and other cases."

He said that earlier coverage included the "names of the accused priests, critiques of the diocese's handling of the complaints, victims' accounts and many other details."

"Of the seven priests associated with these cases, five were removed and banned from ministry long ago," McAleer said. "One was deceased at the time the allegation was brought forward and the case against the seventh priest was unsubstantiated."

In the meantime, he said the Diocese of Bridgeport has reached out to support anyone who has been harmed and created a safe environment program to guard against such misconduct in the future.

"Every priest, deacon, lay employee and volunteer -- more than 30,000 people -- has received a criminal background check and 95,000 people across Fairfield County have received prevention training. Can any other institution in our state show such concern and commitment?" McAleer said.

But that concern and commitment came only in the wake of settling lawsuits filed by abuse victims, according to the advocacy groups.

"The diocese talks a lot about accountability and transparency, but as you know, they fought a long, hard legal battle to prevent the public from seeing these documents," said O'Callaghan.

Both O'Callaghan and McCabe said Catholic bishops across the U.S. involved in sex abuse scandals experienced few or no consequences.

He cited two in particular. He pointed out that Egan left Bridgeport to be installed as archbishop of New York in June 2000, and was elevated to the status of cardinal in February 2001, while Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, who resigned his Boston diocese post in the wake of a widespread abuse scandal, was transferred to Rome, where he became archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the five major basilicas of the Roman Catholic Church.

"The majority of bishops who tolerated abusive behavior by their clergy suffered none of the consequences," O'Callaghan said. "Cardinal Egan has done quite well since leaving Bridgeport."
About the documents The documents, the focus of a seven-year legal battle between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and several newspapers, are expected to detail complaints of sexual abuse by priests brought to the attention of two former Bridgeport bishops and their subordinates. Others will disclose how the bishops and other diocesan officials responded to the allegations. Some of the cases are believed to date back to the 1960s. Details about the records will be available at www.ctpost.com when they become available Tuesday.

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  1. Egan's remarks on priest abuse scandal draw fire

    by Daniel Tepfer, Connecticut Post February 7, 2012

    BRIDGEPORT -- Former New York Cardinal Edward Egan, who was at the center of the priest abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport when he was bishop here, has drawn criticism from a national victims' group and a local law firm that represented victims over an interview he recently gave.

    In the recent edition of Connecticut Magazine, Egan said that while bishop here, he did nothing wrong regarding abuse allegations against priests in the diocese and in fact never had a case of alleged abuse while he was bishop.
    In the interview, Egan also said he believes there is no legal requirement to report abuse cases in Connecticut and expressed regret for the apology he made regarding the priest scandal here.

    "First of all, I should have never said that," Egan told the magazine regarding his 2002 statement of regret. "I did say if we did anything wrong, I'm sorry, but I don't think we did anything wrong."

    Egan succeeded Bishop Walter Curtis, who had overseen the diocese from 1961 to 1988.

    "Egan is obviously unrepentant, self-absorbed and painfully dismissive of the abject suffering of tens of thousands of deeply wounded men, women and children who have been sexually violated by priests, nuns, bishops, brothers, seminarians and other Catholic officials," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "We can't help but believe that many other prelates feel exactly as he does, but are shrewd enough to avoid saying so outside of clerical circles."
    Clohessy urged Egan's successors, Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, to denounce those statements.

    "I believe it's not in the bishops' heart to condemn another bishop," said Bridgeport Diocese spokesman Brian Wallace, who was unaware of the Egan interview. "Bishop Lori stands on his own record. He came into a crisis, a most painful time in the local church's history, he responded in a way that not only addressed the crisis in our diocese, but set a model for the national church."

    In the interview, Egan said many of his accomplishments were unfairly overshadowed by the priest sex abuse scandal. "I'm not the slightest bit surprised that, of course, the scandal was going to be fun in the news -- not fun, but the easiest thing to write about."
    That statement also drew criticism.
    "Cardinal Egan's statements in this article, including describing the sex abuse scandal as being `incredibly good' or `fun' for the news, confirms the extent to which he was out of touch with the reality of what occurred to the Catholic faithful within his diocese," said local attorneys Cindy Robinson, Jason Tremont and Douglas Mahoney. The three represented more than 90 people who received settlements from the diocese for claims of abuse from the 1960s through the mid-1990s. "For the cardinal to `take back' his apology is just another slap in the face of every victim who has endured the physical and emotional upheaval and betrayal of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest."

    Church documents obtained by the Connecticut Post during more than 10 years of reporting abuse allegations against priests here show that Egan was made aware of specific allegations of abuse by priests when he became bishop here in 1988. However, not only did Egan not report the abuse claims to police authorities, he covered up the allegations, moving offending priests around the diocese.

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    According to Senior Assistant State's Attorney Cornelius Kelly, under Connecticut law since 1971 clergy have been among those "mandated reporters" who are obligated to inform law enforcement agencies when they are aware of allegations of sexual abuse against children.

    The Bridgeport diocese agreed to pay nearly $40 million in settlements to dozens of people who claimed their abuse at the hands of more than a dozen priests in the diocese since the 1960s was covered up by the church. Most of the settlements were reached just days after Egan left the diocese to become cardinal of New York.
    In 1989, Egan assigned Rev. Martin Federici, who according to church documents was accused of abusing several children, to the former Cathedral High School. Federici was moved to another post in the diocese after complaints were made that he abused a child at the high school.

    That same year, Egan was informed that the then-Rev. Joseph DeShan had impregnated a 14-year-old girl who was working at the rectory at St. Augustine Cathedral. Church records show Egan had the girl fired from her job at the rectory and didn't inform police of the situation. Instead, DeShan voluntarily left the priesthood.
    In January 1993, the first lawsuit was filed against the diocese claiming the Rev. Raymond Pcolka sexually abused two children in the early 1980s. When the lawsuit was filed, diocese officials adamantly denied they had ever before received a complaint of abuse against Pcolka. But court documents later showed that the diocese had been in negotiations since 1989 with a lawyer representing people who claimed they were abused as children by Pcolka.

    A total of 16 people would later claim they were abused by Pcolka in the early 1980s but the diocese did not suspend the priest until March 1993.

    In October 2003, Lori, named bishop in 2000, publicly apologized to those abused by priests in the diocese. Lori was in the forefront of church efforts nationally to develop policies to deal with priest sex abuse.

    Egan, who retired in 2009, lives in New York City.

    The closest Egan ever came to making an apology was in an April 2002 letter to parishioners in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral.

    "It is clear that today we have a much better understanding of this problem," Egan wrote. "If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards to prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry."


  3. Egan's Moral Idiocy

    by Michael Sean Winters National Catholic Reporter February 06, 2012

    I had thought that by now, 2012, it was impossible to be shocked by an example of episcopal moral idiocy regarding the sexual abuse of minors. For every bishop like Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who has self-evidently tried to do the right thing by the victims of this horror, there is a grand jury report, actually two, in Philadelphia cataloguing indifference or worse. For every archdiocese like Washington, where three consecutive archbishops – Hickey, McCarrick and Wuerl – have handled accusations of abuse with swiftness and justice, there is a diocese like Kansas City-St. Joseph, which is under criminal indictment for failing to follow civil law, let alone moral law. And for every brave and decisive bishop like Wilton Gregory, who as chairman of the USCCB in 2002 refused to ignore the gravity of the crisis or accept half-measures to face it, there is a bishop like Fabian Bruskewitz who still refuses to even permit an audit of his diocese’s compliance with child protection procedures. As I say, I thought I was beyond shock.

    But, then I read the recently published interview in Connecticut Magazine with Cardinal Edward Egan, the archbishop emeritus of New York. And I was shocked. Before reading it, make sure you allow yourself some time to meltdown after.

    The cardinal’s words are those of a narcissist in the extreme. He begins, “You know, I never had one of these sex abuse cases, either in Bridgeport or here (New York). Not one. The newspapers pretend as though what happened under Walter Curtis (Bishop of the Bridgeport diocese from 1961 to 1988) happened to me. Walter was a wonderful, wonderful, dear gentleman. He had gotten very old and they were sitting there. And I took care of them one by one.” Funny, I thought only a teenager could get so many “I’s” into so few sentences.

    Speaking of funny, here is what the cardinal had to say about media coverage of the sex abuse crisis: “I’m not the slightest but surprised that, of course, the scandal was going to be fun in the news – not fun, but the easiest thing to write about.” Actually, I know of the writers and editors who first broke the stories – they work here at NCR – and I can assure His Eminence that there was no “fun” in it for them. Nor ease. They, like most normal human beings, were horrified by the tales of child rape, cover-up of child rape, placing child rapists repeatedly in situations where they could perpetrate their crimes again, and then trying to keep it all hush-hush lest there be scandal. The decision to publish these stories was courageous but also heart-wrenching, not least because those who researched the stories, wrote the stories and edited the stories were also those who loved the Catholic Church. If all bishops had reacted with the courage of Tom Fox, with the appropriate disgust of Tom Roberts, and with the clear understanding that cover-ups are always a bad idea like Jason Berry, the bishops would not have found themselves in this mess.

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    The extraordinary lack of human empathy in this man shines through when the reporter observes that one of the criticisms of Egan’s time as bishop of Bridgeport was his failure to actually meet with the victims. Egan replies, “First of all, I couldn’t apologize for something that happened when I wasn’t there. Furthermore, every one of those cases was in litigation before a court, or threatened to be, and every one was handled correctly.” The defensiveness of the reply is shocking – as if Egan things the worst thing that could happen to a person is not sex abuse but getting a less than stellar wikipedia entry. His defensiveness if only matched by his inability to recognize that a bishop is a pastor, not a lawyer. Other bishops have met with victims – Pope Benedict has met with victims. Others have apologized on behalf of the Church for crimes they did not commit but for which, as the successor of those who did, they take responsibility. Certainly, in Bridgeport, Egan did not decline to use the cathedral because it has been built by a predecessor. He did not foreswear the use of duns raised by his predecessors. Ah, but risking a moment of human empathy by actually meeting with a victim – that is too much, that belongs to his predecessor.
    I used the word “victim” above, but of course, that is my word not Egan’s. Indeed, in the entire interview, there are two words that are conspicuous in their absence: victim and children. He talks about what he did. He talks about the perpetrators. He talks about the lawyers. He talks about the media. But, not a word for the victims. No recognition of the children whose lives were maimed by these crimes. If this is not moral idiocy, I do not know what is. How this man reached such a high office is beyond me and only further tarnishes the reputation of Bl. Pope John Paul II who, for all his gifts, was a singularly bad judge of character.

    Egan’s interview comes at an especially inauspicious moment. His successor as Archbishop of New York, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, has been out front in the USCCB’s fight against the Obama administration’s recent decision to require Catholic institutions to pay health insurance that covers abortifacients, sterilization and contraception. Dolan, rightly, argues that this is an unwarranted attack on the Church. Some Catholics perceive the decision as part of a “war on Catholics,” and while I do not go that far, certainly this is a time when the U.S. hierarchy needs to marshal its moral and intellectual credibility. But, I can think of really no insurance mandate from Obama, and no anti-immigrant legislation from a GOP-dominated legislature in Arizona or Alabama, that can do more harm to Catholics than the continued moral idiocy of Cardinal Egan. He not only undermines us with our critics, he undermines the bishops with loyal Catholics. He makes a mockery of his office. If there were a way to strip him of his red hat, it should be pursued. If there is a way to kick him out of his tony condo, it should be enacted.

    Send him away. Send him to a place where he can listen to the victims of sex abuse describe the horrors that were perpetrated on them. Send him to a place where he can listen to the victims’ families. Actually – don’t let him anywhere near a victim because he might cause them further harm. But, send him to a place where he can no longer harm the Church, as he has done in this interview and as he did for years as a bishop. He should, just go. Far away. And repent.