In many ways, Carole Surran was the ideal parishioner - a devout Catholic who attended Mass daily and allowed nothing to interfere with her faith or devotion to the church.
It was that devotion, in part, that led the Wilton mother to seek a meeting in August 1989 with Bridgeport's new bishop, Edward Egan, to discuss a problem she feared would harm her church: The recent assignment to a diocesan high school of a priest who had tried to molest her son seven years earlier.
As an entree to Egan, Surran sought and received the help of a well-known professor and priest at St. John's University, where she was a graduate student in theology. The professor wrote to his friend Egan, commending Surran as an impressive woman who had a "grave and sensitive" matter to discuss with him.
Surran then followed up with a respectful - and, as it turns out, prophetic - letter of her own to the bishop, saying the matter "could have devastating effects on individuals, as well as be a serious scandal for the diocese and the Church. Hoping to hear from you soon."
Egan never responded.
Today, as Surran watches the recent crisis in the Catholic Church, she is furious that Egan defends his handling of numerous Bridgeport sex-abuse cases by saying he aggressively investigated, and cared about, victims' claims. Particularly galling, she said, is Egan's recent contention that he could not meet with victims or their families because they had all sued the diocese.
"One of his points was he didn't approach people because they were surrounded by lawyers - but we didn't sue," Surran said. "We weren't threatening. There was no excuse."
Surran said that even after making repeated phone calls to Egan's office, the most she was offered was a meeting with one of his aides. And despite her concerns, the accused priest, the Rev. Charles Carr, was allowed to continue working in the diocese until earlier this year, when he was finally removed after yet another complaint emerged.
Egan, now a cardinal and the archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, conceded Saturday through his spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, that his previous statement was wrong.
"Mrs. Surran is correct in reporting that she approached the Diocese of Bridgeport regarding Rev. Charles Carr without a lawyer," Zwilling said. "The statement of the Archdiocese of New York in March of this year was therefore in error as regards this case, despite an attentive review of all files in Bridgeport."
Egan also personally acknowledged Saturday that he had mishandled the Carr case. The admission came at the same time the archdiocese released a letter of apology from Egan that will be read from the pulpit today. (See related story, A1.)
"Looking back, if I had it to do again, I would not reassign a priest like Father Carr, even with restrictions and even with the best of professional advice," Egan said in a statement to The Courant.
Surran agreed to speak publicly for the first time this month, after being contacted by a reporter. Although her son cooperated with other victims' lawsuits against the Bridgeport diocese, and his account of abuse by Carr remains largely unchallenged, the Surrans never sued or sought exposure for themselves.
Their names surfaced in sealed court documents obtained by The Courant that show how Egan allowed Carr and other accused priests to continue working in parishes for years, and did not refer complaints to criminal authorities. The documents were sealed after the Bridgeport diocese settled complaints against Carr and five other priests last year for about $12 million.
Today, Surran, 65, and her husband, Boyd, are Eucharistic ministers in their parish in Arkansas, where they now live, and remain deeply devoted to the Catholic Church. Surran said she wishes she had called the police in 1982, when the incident with her son and Carr occurred, rather than assuming the diocese would handle it.
But, she said, she trusted the church.
"It was always the same motivation," she said. "I never got to the point where I wanted to `get' them. I wanted the problem taken care of. I still do."
What little confidence Surran might have still had in Egan was dashed last month, she said, when he refused to concede that he made mistakes in Bridgeport and claimed lawyers thwarted his desire to meet with victims of sex abuse by priests.
"It's important that [people] don't take Egan's word that he handled these cases appropriately," Surran said. "I think he should step down."
The Bridgeport diocese was a haven of sorts for 29-year-old Charles Carr.
After spending more than 10 years with the Order of Carmelites and taking his perpetual vows in 1974, Carr was not allowed to study for the ministerial priesthood with the Carmelites.
Carr was too emotionally immature to become a priest, his supervising priest said when contacted by the Bridgeport diocese for a reference. He wasn't a hard worker, became frustrated easily, didn't want to participate in communal prayer or community affairs, lacked a "physical presence," and had an "inability to express his needs and desires even to peers."
"At the moment, I could not see it as beneficial to Charles to enter the seminary and pursue theological studies for the ministerial priesthood," the Rev. Charles Haggerty wrote to the Bridgeport diocese in 1977.
Despite the blunt assessment of Carr's shortcomings from someone who had known him for years, the Bridgeport diocese accepted him as a candidate for priesthood after a psychological evaluation at St. Mary's Hospital in Waterbury.
He began in 1980 as a deacon intern at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Wilton, where he met the Surrans and, two years later, invited their 11-year-old son and another boy on a day trip to his sister's home on Long Island. Carole Surran said she gave her permission for the trip because it was a vacation week and her son was cooped up at home.
Her son - who is not being identified by The Courant at the family's request - says he didn't really want to go with Carr, but he didn't tell his mother that. After all, Carr was a priest and deserved respect, he said in a recent interview.
"The only reason I went was because I didn't want to hurt his feelings," he said.
As an outgoing and athletic 11-year-old boy, the son found Carr's "effeminate" mannerisms off-putting, he said, and it made him uncomfortable that Carr was often tickling boys in the parish. The day of the outing was no different.
Another boy was sitting in the front seat on the way there, and Carr was tickling him with one hand while he drove the tan Chevy Chevette with the other. After Carr dropped the other boy off at his house later that night, the priest suggested that Surran's son move to the front seat, and he then parked the car, the son said.
In a deposition he volunteered to give in 1996 when he learned that Carr was being sued for molesting other children, Surran's son described what happened next:
"After we dropped off Stephen, he started tickling me and then he tried to stick his hand down my pants further, trying to touch my penis," he testified.
"I turned to my right to cut his arm off, to shield myself from him. As his hand was there, I took my right hand and I put it over my penis so he couldn't touch it and I rolled, turned away and kept nudging at his arm so eventually it would come out, and he kept persisting and persisting. Eventually, he pushed - his hand came out and I kicked him and I hit him and I called him a pervert at that point in time, and he was shocked, obviously."
Surran later told diocesan officials that Carr started pounding on her son's back and "laughing this maniacal laugh" as the child insisted the priest take him home. In a written statement she submitted to the diocese in 1989, Surran said her son was drenched in sweat and shaking when he came home that night and told his mother what had happened.
"He was almost in shock," Surran recalled. "He couldn't have been lying, in that condition."
The next morning, one of her son's neighborhood friends called to talk to him. Thinking it might cheer him up and rouse him from his fetal position in bed, Surran called her son to the phone.
But when he took the phone, he discovered it wasn't his friend on the line - it was Carr, who was visiting the other boy's family.
"He kept saying, `I'm going to get you. I'm going to get you,' and he was laughing that laugh again," Carole Surran said in her 1989 statement to the diocese. "It was very frightening to [her son]."
Rather than go to the police, Surran immediately reported all of this to her parish priest, the Rev. Michael Palmer, who told her it would be taken care of, she said. Palmer confronted Carr, who admitted the tickling, but insisted his hand must have slipped down the boy's pants by mistake, diocese documents show. Palmer simply told Carr to stay away from the Surran boy, and he let the matter drop.
Carr was transferred about a year later to Saint Mary's in Bethel, where he was also assigned to the staff of Immaculate High School in Danbury. Surran, who remained unaware of Carr's new assignment, said she assumed church officials were keeping Carr away from children.
She was wrong.
Within weeks of being transferred to Bethel in 1984, Carr invited a 14-year-old altar boy at Saint Mary's Parish to see the movie "Cloak and Dagger" at the Fine Arts Theater in Brookfield.
According to diocesan memos contained in Carr's personnel file, he began fondling the boy in the car on the way to the theater, continued throughout the film, and resumed again on the drive home.
Another boy from Saint Mary's also complained that Carr fondled him at the movies during the same time period, and the boys' parents went together to the church to make a complaint.
Monsignor Andrew T. Cusack, the vicar for clergy and religious, met with the parents, records show, and then transferred Carr to St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in East Norwalk. Cusack required Carr to seek therapy, but he didn't warn Carr's new parish priest that he was getting an accused child molester.
Although Carr later denied molesting any of the boys at St. Thomas, he admitted under oath to inviting several young teenagers to his room at the rectory to watch movies behind closed doors. Carr was later sued by one of those boys, who accused the priest of masturbating him during these movie sessions, as well as by his own nephew, who also claimed he was molested during the same time period.
Carr, who now lives on the grounds of the Sisters of the Holy Family Nazareth compound in Monroe, did not respond to a request for comment last week.
After two years at St. Thomas, Carr was transferred to Fairfield, where he held a teaching position at Notre Dame High School, and then, in 1989, to Central Catholic High School in Norwalk, where he was named spiritual director for boys.
When Carole Surran, who had lost track of Carr after 1984, learned of his high school appointment, she immediately tried to see Egan, who had just been named bishop in December 1988. That's when she had one of her professors at St. John's, Monsignor George A. Kelly, write her a letter of introduction.
Kelly, now retired, said he doesn't remember much about the Surran case and declined to comment on Egan's refusal to meet with his former student. In the letter he wrote for Surran in June 1989, Kelly told Egan, a longtime friend, that he was "impressed with her sensitivity, intellectual grasp of the issues and her good sense."
In her own letter about a month later, Surran told Egan: "I have delayed writing this letter because of the many burdens that you have had to carry during those first months as bishop of this diocese. I certainly have no wish to add to this burden."
With no response, and after numerous calls to Egan's office in a futile attempt to get an appointment, Surran settled for a meeting with the bishop's aide, Monsignor Laurence Bronkiewicz. She recalls telling Bronkiewicz the diocese was making a terrible mistake by assigning Carr to a school, and he "led me to believe he would take care of it."
But the diocese's way of taking care of the problem once again fell far short of Surran's expectations.
Although Bronkiewicz spoke with Palmer, the priest who received Surran's complaint in 1983, and even unearthed a second sexual misconduct complaint from that time period, Carr was allowed to continue working at Central Catholic after a one-day psychiatric evaluation at the Institute of Living in Hartford.
Egan, who made the decision to return Carr to Central Catholic, pulled him out of the job a second time when the diocese received another complaint against Carr in 1990, and returned him to the institute for three months of treatment.
Then, in June 1990, Egan reassigned Carr to St. Philip Parish in Norwalk. Although the diocese told Carr he could not minister directly to children, there was an elementary school attached to the church.
Surran, who by now was tracking Carr's whereabouts, went ballistic.
"I called the vicar, Monsignor Bronkiewicz, and I expressed my outrage," Surran said. "And he said, and I remember this perfectly, `I didn't know you meant any school. I thought you just meant that school,' meaning Central Catholic. It was a very telling remark. He was just placating me."
Bronkiewicz, who issued a statement Saturday, did not address Surran's version of their final conversation. But he denied that he gave Surran any assurances in 1989 about how the allegation would be handled.
"I did not - and would not - make a promise to Mrs. Surran regarding Father Carr's future assignment, because I had no authority to do so," Bronkiewicz said. "My responsibility was to report Mrs. Surran's complaint to the Bishop, which I did."
Egan allowed Carr to continue working as a priest until 1995, when he suspended him after the first lawsuit was filed in connection with Carr's alleged molestation of children. Egan eventually allowed him to return in 1999 as a chaplain for the Pope John Paul II Center for Health Care in Danbury.
He remained there until February, when the new bishop, William Lori, suspended him after receiving another complaint of sexual misconduct from years earlier.
As for the Surrans, they wrote a letter in May 2000 to Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo of the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., expressing their profound concern about Egan being named archbishop of New York.
"Twenty-two cases of pedophilia have been filed against the diocese, and Bishop Egan is under subpoena," the letter said. "Some of the priests accused in these cases have been moved from parish (with school) to parish (with school) during the tenure of Bishop Egan."
They never got a response.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times