Parishioners at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hartford Sunday stood behind a popular priest who denied having improper contact with a young girl about 22 years ago.
The Rev. Edward M. Moran disclosed to parishioners in a brief statement Saturday that a woman made the allegation against him in 1996, but he was cleared after an investigation by the Archdiocese of Hartford. The incident was alleged to have occurred in 1980 when the woman was 7 or 8 and he was a priest at St. Brigid Church in the town's Elmwood section.
On Sunday, Moran spoke briefly at each of the five services, where he detailed and disputed the account of the woman who made the accusation while professing his innocence. He also asked the congregation to pray for the accuser's family.
His statement was followed by applause from the congregation as he left the altar.
Several parishioners credited Moran for having the "dignity" to make the accusation public and questioned why the news media has focused primarily on Catholic Church priests.
"I'm praying for all priests because they have their human failings just like we do," said Allison Green of West Hartford, who two years ago joined the church after converting to Catholicism. "I would like to know why the Catholic Church priests are the ones being focused on. What about the failings of other denominations?"
Many parishioners reacted with disbelief, saying it was unfair for someone to accuse Moran of any wrongdoing given his compassion and warmth.
Dorothy Kerrigan of Bloomfield, a member for 25 years, said she sympathized with Moran for having to live with the accusation. She was 100 percent supportive of him, she said.
Moran has been an assistant pastor at St. Thomas for about 10 years and teaches religion classes at Northwest Catholic High School.
"I'm just so distraught that someone would have brought this against him," she said. "It must have been so difficult for him to do what he did today."
The Rev. Patrick J. Curran, who said he was celebrating his 47th year in the ministry, conducted the noontime Mass, during which Moran gave his two-minute talk. Twenty minutes into the Mass Moran emerged from a back door off the altar, pausing momentarily to stand and pray in front of a hanging crucifix, before walking behind the pulpit.
Dressed in a simple black robe, Moran read a Scripture before saying he had something painful to tell them.
He went on to say that in 1996 he was accused of having "inappropriate contact" with a young girl. Moran said he had the same response to the accusation Sunday as he did then.
"I'm standing in front of you this weekend saying the same thing. I am innocent," he said.
The archdiocese concluded there was no basis to the allegation after a full and complete investigation, he said.
Moran said he would have told them earlier, but chose not to because he feared it would have upset his mother, Catherine Moran, who died last year at 75.
"My mother would often say to me `Eddie, God is good.' I don't have anything else to believe but that right now,"' he said.
After Moran spoke, Curran detoured from the usual service when he told the congregation that their applause reminded him of the support he received when he began his ministry 47 years ago.
Relatives, friends and other supporters who turned out for his ordination reacted in a similar fashion, showering him with applause and support.
The Rev. John P. Gatzak, a spokesman for the archdiocese, was unavailable for comment Sunday.
Parish Backs Accused Priest
Members Believe In His Innocence
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