While serving as bishop in Bridgeport, Edward M. Egan, now New York cardinal, failed to notify police about a sexual relationship between a 15-year-old member of a church youth group and a priest - a relationship considered statutory rape under Connecticut law.
The teenager, who is now 28, became pregnant with the priest's child in September 1989, two months after her 16th birthday, documents show, and today is struggling as a single mother in Bridgeport.
That same month, the Rev. Joseph DeShan requested a leave of absence from the church and revealed the relationship to diocese officials. Egan allowed him to leave the priesthood and begin a new life as an elementary school teacher in New Jersey - with no record of sexual misconduct.
Diocesan files make no mention of the girl's status as a minor, a spokesman said Thursday evening, but a cursory investigation would have revealed that she was legally underage when the relationship began. Records show that DeShan gave church officials the girl's name, said she worked at the rectory of St. Augustine Cathedral and explained that the relationship began in October 1988, said Joseph McAleer, a spokesman for the Bridgeport diocese.
"Obviously, the church today would not condone what is a criminal act and neither would society," McAleer said. "If it happened today, this would be reported to the authorities without question."
The Bridgeport and New York dioceses said in a joint statement today that the diocese did not know DeShan had fathered a child until he petitioned for laicization - departure of the priesthood - in 1994.
DeShan then said he had a "monogamous relationship with a woman," the dioceses said. The record includes speculation by DeShan's psychologist that the girl was 16, but that is the age of consent in Connecticut, the statement said.
DeShan never told Egan or the Bridgeport diocese that he had sex with a minor, nor did the girl or her family, the dioceses said.
In contrast to Egan's solicitous treatment of DeShan, the mother of the child says she experienced a very different reaction from the church two days after she told DeShan she was pregnant. On that day, she was called in to see Monsignor William Scheyd, a top aide to Egan, and was told that she was fired from her evening receptionist's job at the Bridgeport cathedral.
After that, no one from the diocese contacted her or offered assistance, and no law enforcement authorities ever inquired about her sexual relationship with a priest twice her age - a relationship that, by all accounts, began before she reached the legal age of consent.
Even as a growing scandal roils the Roman Catholic Church nationally, the incident is the first public example of sexual misconduct that occurred and was apparently concealed - and certainly not explored even minimally - while Egan was bishop. Clergy in Connecticut are required by law to report cases of suspected sexual abuse, including statutory rape, a felony.
Attempts to reach a spokesman for Egan in New York - where he became archbishop in 2000 and was elevated last year to cardinal - were unsuccessful Thursday.
The woman, who now lives in a modest apartment on the east side of Bridgeport, never filed a lawsuit against the church and sought child support from DeShan only after she applied for state assistance. She has never discussed the matter publicly, confiding only in her family and close friends, and says she does not plan any legal action.
After she was contacted by The Courant, she agreed to tell her story on condition of anonymity. She said she has come to believe that the attention DeShan lavished on her a decade ago, which she once found so flattering, amounted to mistreatment by an adult who should have known better.
"I'm angry," said the woman, who has worked for several years at a social service agency for abused women and children. "I feel anger because I got pregnant, because I haven't done anything in life that I wanted to do."
She also said she agreed to come forward because she believes the church concealed DeShan's misconduct - and compounded the wrong by firing her.
"People shouldn't be naïve," she said. "The church hides things, too."
After DeShan was placed on leave of absence, he and the woman lived together in a cabin in Vermont and, later, at his parents' home in a New Jersey suburb. The woman, who is Hispanic and who felt unwelcome in that town, returned to Bridgeport.
DeShan has since married another woman, a doctor. They and their two children live in a Philadelphia suburb. He teaches fifth grade at a public elementary school in Cinnaminson, a small town in New Jersey.
Egan Failed To Report Relations Between Priest And Teen Girl
Copyright © 2002 by The Hartford Courant
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