The head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport has condemned the kind of sexual misconduct central to a recent trial in which a federal jury ruled the diocese covered up abuse by one of its priests.
Bishop Edward M. Egan, in his first public statement since the verdict two weeks ago, said the church will never tolerate sexual abuse, calling it "altogether and totally reprehensible."
Egan's comments came this weekend in a letter read during Masses in the 88 parishes in Fairfield County. Egan could not speak publicly about the trial because he was a witness.
In the letter, Egan stressed that clergy, religious and laity working in the diocese "understand full well that they have a solemn duty to treat those in their care with the greatest compassion and moral rectitude."
The trial involved allegations by Frank Martinelli of Milwaukee, who said he had been sexually abused by the Rev. Laurence F.X. Brett more than 30 years ago. A federal jury in New Haven awarded Martinelli $750,000 on Aug. 26.
The jurors found that the diocese fraudulently concealed evidence that Brett had been abusing teenage boys in the early 1960s. They decided the diocese was culpable by failing to search out and help Martinelli and other victims.
Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven still has not ruled on whether the diocese was under such an obligation.
Egan noted that in 1993, when he first heard of the allegations against Brett, he removed his powers as priest.
"This is my policy and will continue to be my policy," Egan said.
The bishop also sought to clarify a defense raised to one count in the lawsuit, that priests are "self-employed independent contractors." Egan wrote that priests are given that designation for income tax purposes only.
"On a day-to-day basis, any priest employed in any parish answers to the pastor, any priest employed in any school answers to the principal and any priest employed at the Catholic Diocesan Center answers to the bishop."