Bridgeport: Seven Clerics, Aided By Church, Shielded Their Files

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Four priests whose departures for sexual misconduct were announced Sunday by Bridgeport Bishop William E. Lori were allowed to actively serve for years despite complaints about them, raising more questions about the diocese's past practice of recording and investigating complaints.

The four were among seven "John Doe" priests referred to, but never publicly identified, during years of litigation against the diocese by victims of another half-dozen priests. The remaining three priests in the group of John Does were not suspended by Lori Sunday and remain active.

Collectively, the seven priests formed a group, which in the mid-1990s hired a lawyer to keep plaintiffs who had filed sex-abuse suits against the diocese from examining their personnel files. Lawyers for the seven priests and the diocese succeeded in keeping the files secret.

Questions about the conduct of the John Doe priests became known to senior diocesan officials during the course of the abuse suits. In fact, Bridgeport's then-Bishop Edward M. Egan, now archbishop and cardinal in New York, was asked about complaints against the seven during a deposition in September 1999. Egan's lawyer blocked him from answering the questions.

The lawsuits were settled last year when the Bridgeport diocese agreed to pay about $12 million to 26 people who complained of abuse by priests during the 1970s and 1980s. Settlement of the suits effectively ended legal attempts to examine the church's personnel files on the seven John Doe priests, and with litigation no longer pending, demands for evidence of misconduct became moot.

The Courant learned the identities of the seven -- who were never named as defendants in the abuse suits -- after obtaining sealed legal papers, including Egan's depositions in the suits.

Lori resurrected questions about the seven on Sunday when, during a press conference, he announced the removal or resignation of several priests, in part to allay concerns of Fairfield County parishioners about sexual misconduct by clergy members.

Saying "the evil of sexual abuse of minors calls for a radically new approach," Lori announced the suspension of the Rev. Stanley N. Koziol of St. Mark Parish in Stratford, and the resignation of Monsignor Gregory M. Smith, director of the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Studies at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

In addition, Lori revealed that two other priests who had disappeared without explanation from their parishes in 1997 had, in fact, been removed for sexual misconduct on Egan's orders. Those priests were the Rev. Joseph Moore and Monsignor Charles W. Stubbs.

Joseph McAleer, a spokesman for the Bridgeport diocese, said Monday he did not know why complaints, some of which appear to have been present in clergy personnel files for years, were not acted on prior to Lori's installation as bishop.

"I can't speak for the past," he said. "I can speak for you confidently for the present and on Bishop Lori. We never had a review board before."

Smith was accused of becoming sexually involved with two teenage girls in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the girls filed repeated complaints with church officials over a period of many years about Smith's conduct. In the late 1990s, the girl -- by then a middle-aged wife and mother -- sued Smith and the diocese, but a judge dismissed the suit, saying it had been filed too late.

Egan, then bishop of Bridgeport, briefly suspended Smith at about the time the suit was filed. But he later reinstated Smith after the priest completed a psychiatric evaluation.

Koziol, prior to his suspension Sunday, recently admitted having sexual relations with a minor in the early 1960s. A deposition obtained by The Courant shows that a senior diocesan official was aware of questions about Koziol's behavior for years.

In a deposition in 1996, former Bishop Walter Curtis was asked: "Isn't it a fact that Father Koziol was transferred from one of his parishes to another because of claims made in regard to sexual abuse of children?" Curtis' lawyer instructed him not to answer the question.

According to another deposition, the diocese knew of the abuse charges involving Moore at least by 1995 -- two years before his quiet suspension by Egan.

A lawyer for sex abuse plaintiffs questioned Monsignor Andrew T. Cusack about the complaints against Moore in 1995. Cusack, at that time, said he did not recall a meeting with two parents who told him that Moore had abused their sons.

The allegations that led to Stubbs' removal that same year, and the date of their occurrence, could not be determined.

The nature of the complaints against the three other priests who intervened in the abuse suits -- but who were not among those mentioned by Lori on Sunday -- are less clear.

A variety of sources said they did not know the nature of the allegations that put two of the three still-active priests into the group of seven. In a deposition obtained by The Courant, the third is accused of removing the trousers of young boys and spanking them. A lawyer familiar with the litigation against the diocese said that at least one additional complaint against that third, still active priest, surfaced during the lawsuits.

McAleer said that a review recently ordered by Lori as a means of dealing forcefully with misconduct allegations showed no information in the personnel files of the three still-active priests that would merit punishment.

"Bishop Lori initiated the file review not because he was expecting anything," McAleer said. "He wanted to make sure that if there were allegations from the past they were handled properly and thoroughly. In the course of file review, if any past allegations were discovered, they were revisited with the advice and wisdom of the new review board."

Others expressed a lesser degree of confidence in the diocesan review process.

Peggy Fry of Monroe, the woman who unsuccessfully sued Smith, said Monday she thought his resignation from the churchwas appropriate. But she criticized the church for years of inaction on allegations of sexual misconduct.

"Unfortunately, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg," she said of Lori's suspensions.

Bridgeport lawyer Cindy Robinson, who sued in behalf of Fry and other abuse victims, called Lori's actions long overdue.

"Those announcements should have been made years ago," Robinson said. "My feeling is that they are only now being made because of the public scrutiny. These aren't new allegations for them. In the case of Monsignor Smith, they have known for years and they recklessly have allowed him to continue on as a priest even after he admitted sexual abuse of minors."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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