BRIDGEPORT, R.I. - The betrayal began when their priest sexually abused them, they said, and continued when the church covered up his crimes.
Yesterday, accusers of the Rev. Laurence F.X. Brett said they felt newly betrayed at the news that, while police and plantiffs' lawyers searched over the past decade without success, a handful of friends from Brett's days as a Bridgeport priest knew he was secretly living on a Caribbean island.
"It's ludicrous that this man is still running around and the Catholic church is hiding him," said Frank Mercaldo, who says Brett abused him when he was a high school student at Calvert Hall College in Towson.
Church officials in Bridgeport and Baltimore said they have not had contact with Brett and did not know where he was until The Hartford Courant told them Wednesday that it had located him on St. Maarten.
The Bridgeport diocese is investigating two priests who were allegedly in touch with Brett - including one who, Brett's former neighbors say, visited him as recently as January.
Meanwhile, as prosecutors and accusers signaled renewed interest in criminal charges, an evangelical branch of an order of Catholic priests in Washington confirmed yesterday that it supported Brett financially by paying him as a contract writer, at least for a time, while he was living on the island.
The Rev. Kenneth Boyack, president of the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association, said the organization was unaware that the author of its popular Bible study magazine, Share the Word, had been accused of molesting children in Connecticut, New Mexico, California and Baltimore.
According to Boyack, the Paulists terminated Brett's contract Aug. 19, 1997, four days after reading a newspaper article about Brett being a co-defendant in a federal lawsuit against the Bridgeport Diocese.
"We were shocked when we read the details of what he'd done," he said. "We've had no contact with him since that time."
Some of Brett's accusers in Connecticut and Baltimore said yesterday that they would renew their efforts to have the priest charged criminally.
Connecticut attorney Jennifer Laviano, who represented five men Brett is alleged to have molested in the 1960s, said she will ask prosecutors whether Brett can be prosecuted in her state.
"I certainly would love to see this guy in prison," she said.
One of her clients, Frank Martinelli, said he wants priests who have been in contact with Brett to be held accountable.
"From the beginning, we believed that people within the church had knowledge of Brett's whereabouts," said Martinelli, who says he was abused four decades ago when he was an altar boy at St. Cecilia Parish in Stamford, Conn.
Martinelli sued Brett and the diocese in federal court in 1997. Brett was dropped as a defendant when he couldn't be located.
Baltimore Archdiocese officials have received 15 complaints against Brett since 1972, a few in the early 1970s and a few more recently, but most after church officials asked victims to come forward in 1997, said spokesman Steve Kearney.
Most of those complaints were forwarded to Baltimore County prosecutors, who have jurisdiction over Calvert Hall.
But one complaint was received by city prosecutors from a man who alleged he was molested by Brett in the priest's Paca Street home, said a law enforcement official familiar with the case. It was dropped when the alleged victim, who had moved out of state, declined to return to Maryland to file a formal complaint.
Despite the multiple allegations against Brett, the prospects for criminal charges appear dim.
The Connecticut cases stretch back nearly four decades - apparently beyond the statute of limitations. Baltimore County prosecutor John Cox said Maryland's first child sex abuse law took effect in July 1974; such felonies that occurred after that time are not subject to a statute of limitations.
Neither Cox nor the Baltimore Archdiocese could say yesterday whether they had a complaint on or after that date.
"We've got so much to look at now," Cox said.
Still, Chicago resident Anthony Cardone, who was among boys Brett is alleged to have molested in the 1960s, said he was furious that the priest was being aided after he vanished from Baltimore in 1993.
"I am outraged he was aided and abetted by these people," he said. "It's a slap in the face betrayal."
Sun staff writer John Rivera contributed to this article.