Sides Rest In Case Against Diocese

Crime, Law and JusticeTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemSexual MisconductStamfordColleges and UniversitiesSocial Issues

A jury will not be allowed to hear new evidence that shows the Bridgeport Catholic Diocese may have known about alleged sexual abuse by a priest before he molested a Stamford boy in the early 1960s.

The jury in U.S. District Court in New Haven is being asked to decide whether the diocese fraudulently concealed alleged sexual abuse by the Rev. Laurence Brett.

Both sides rested their case Friday after a battle over the new evidence. The jury is expected to begin deliberations Monday after closing arguments and instructions from the judge.

Frank Martinelli, a Milwaukee man, is suing the diocese, claiming Brett sexually abused him three times while he was a teenage parishioner at St. Cecilia's Church in Stamford.

Martinelli, now 50, says the diocese had a duty to warn him and other parishioners about the abuse.

The diocese claims it did not hear about any abuse by Brett until December 1964, when officials received a complaint from a 19-year- old Sacred Heart University student.

Martinelli did not file his lawsuit until 1993, after he recovered what he said were long-repressed memories of the abuse.

Martinelli's lawyers tried Friday to admit documents they claim show the diocese knew that Brett had been molesting boys in 1962, before he abused Martinelli.

But U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton ruled that the documents were ambiguous and could not clearly define when the diocese first learned about abuse by Brett.

The documents were notes of a 1993 phone conversation between Monsignor Andrew Cusack, who in the 1960s was the episcopal vicar for the Bridgeport diocese, and an official from the diocese of Sacramento, Calif.

In the conversation, according to Martinelli's lawyer, Cusack says that in 1962, the parents of an eighth-grade boy told him their son had been molested by Brett. Cusack says he reported the incident to an unnamed diocesan official, but that nothing was done.

The conversation took place as the Bridgeport diocese was working with diocesan officials in Sacramento to investigate claims of sexual abuse made against Brett by a California man.

The judge said although the notes were relevant to Martinelli's claim that the diocese had a duty to investigate complaints about Brett and warn parishioners -- they were unclear about just when the diocese received its first complaint and could be overly prejudicial to the diocese.

She also said that Martinelli's lawyers have already read the jury a December 1964 memo about the abuse of the Sacred Heart University student in which diocesan officials note that Brett acknowledged he discovered his "problem" earlier than 1964, while he was at St. Cecilia's in Stamford.

In testimony Friday, the diocese called Monsignor William Genuario to testify about the memo that the jury had heard of repeatedly during the six-day trial.

The December 1964 memo, written by Genuario, then the vice- chancellor of the diocese, chronicles a meeting in which diocesan officials discuss the molestation complaint from the Sacred Heart University student. The memo says Brett admitted the abuse and indicated he had had sexual encounters with other boys in Stamford.

The memo also says that church officials were to give a phony excuse for Brett's absence.

"A recurrence of hepatitis was to be feigned should anyone ask," the memo states.

Genuario, while acknowledging that the word "feign" means to "pretend," said it was not intended as a cover-up.

"As I remember, the thought was that we could at least say he was ill ... the hope was that people would think there was a recurrence of hepatitis."

Brett had been hospitalized for hepatitis earlier that year but was not ill at the time of the memo.

Genuario said the hepatitis story was made up to protect the reputation of Brett as well as the reputation of the Sacred Heart student and the university.

Brett was originally named as a defendant in the lawsuit but was dropped because both sides say they cannot find him. The diocese is now the only defendant in the suit.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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