Roman Catholic Bishop William E. Lori announced sanctions Saturday against two pastors who failed to tell their superiors in the Bridgeport diocese that a notorious pedophile priest was living secretly for nearly a decade on a Caribbean island.
The Rev. David W. Howell, of St. Joseph Parish in South Norwalk, and the Rev. Gerald T. Devore, of St. Maurice Parish in Stamford, were temporarily stripped of their duties and ordered confined to religious houses outside the diocese. There, for a period yet to be determined, they are to follow strict regimens of reflection, prayer and penance -- a punishment considered the harshest possible under church law, a diocesan spokesman said.
``I am gravely disappointed,'' said Lori, who has publicly claimed several times that he hoped the missing priest, the Rev. Laurence F.X. Brett, would be found and brought to justice. The pastors' actions violated diocese policy, he said, and threatened to undermine ``the trust of the faithful in their pastors and in the church itself.''
The sanctions followed a Courant report last week that Brett, accused of molesting more than two dozen children and young men in four states, has been living on St. Maarten. While in hiding, Brett maintained contact with a handful of friends from his days as a clergyman -- including Howell and, though he was not named in the story, Devore.
In an interview last week, Howell denied knowing Brett's whereabouts. Devore was not available for comment.
But during subsequent interviews with diocesan officials, Howell and Devore admitted that they knew Brett's whereabouts and expressed remorse. Under church law, failing to divulge that information constitutes disloyalty to the bishop and is considered a ``moral failing,'' diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer said.
He said the diocese will tell authorities in New Mexico, California and St. Maarten that Brett has been located. Earlier in the week, the diocese notified prosecutors in Maryland and Connecticut, where at least a dozen men have accused Brett of assaulting them as children.
As Brett's accusers said they were gratified by Lori's announcement, parishioners at both churches said they were stunned at learning the news during afternoon Mass.
``I have a letter I don't want to read, but the bishop says I have to,'' the Rev. Bernard A. Keefe, parochial vicar, announced at the end of the 4 p.m. Mass at St. Maurice.
As Keefe read, most parishioners stared in disbelief. Some shook their heads. Others turned and looked at each other blankly. Less than 15 minutes earlier, the congregation had prayed for healing for victims of sexual abuse by priests.
``I'm shocked,'' Ann Rich, 23, said later near the front steps of the chiseled stone church. ``I would never have expected anything like this.''
Since Brett's disappearance in 1993, the church has said it has had no official contact with him. The top aide to former Bridgeport Bishop Edward Egan, now the New York cardinal, testified in connection with a federal lawsuit in 1997 that the diocese did not know Brett's whereabouts.
In addition to the two priests, The Courant reported that Brett has been in contact with laymen in Baltimore and has been financially supported by an order of Catholic priests in Washington. A branch of that order, the Paulist Fathers, for whom Brett once worked, sent him checks through an offshore company.
The diocesan spokesman said that Lori has asked the Paulists for details of their contact with Brett. The Paulists could not be reached for comment late Saturday.
In the interview last Tuesday, Howell denied knowing Brett's whereabouts and said he could not explain why his name and the parish fax number appeared on a memorandum written on the letterhead of the company through which Brett accepted payments from the Paulists.
McAleer said the diocese believes Devore and Howell were merely friends with the disgraced priest. ``It was a friendship, but it did not, to our understanding, include financial support,'' he said.
Lori was not available for comment Saturday. Nor were Devore and Howell, who were traveling to the religious houses after being told of their punishments a day earlier.
``This will be a very humbling experience we hope for each pastor,'' McAleer said. He declined to identify the religious houses to which the priests were sent.
Howell, 60, has been pastor of St. Joseph Parish since 1986. Devore, 65, has been pastor of St. Maurice Parish since 1985.
Pastors Do Penance For Silence
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