Connecticut Catholic diocese forced to release documents of allegations of priests’ sexual abuse

After losing a seven-year fight to keep documents of priests’ sex abuse sealed, the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut released the documents that reveal graphic descriptions of abuse and the failure of the Diocese to act on parents’ complaints about the priests. -DB

The Hartford Courant
December 2, 2009
By Dave Altimari, Edmund H. Mahony, Matthew Kauffman and Alaine Griffin

Even as a young seminary student, Raymond Pcolka’s psychiatric problems caused doctors to question whether he should be a priest.

Early in his studies, seminary officials sent Pcolka home for a year to “recover control of his nerves.” But after returning to school, a Bridgeport psychiatrist deemed Pcolka to be suffering an “obsessive compulsive type neurosis.” Another doctor diagnosed a neurotic reaction and “adjustment problems of late adolescence.” Still another recommended further psychiatric examination for the “uncommunicative” Pcolka.

“If there is any question of this man’s stability or ability,” one doctor wrote, “I would recommend psychological testing before final vows.”

Despite his odd behavior, Pcolka was ordained in 1965 by then-Bridgeport Bishop Walter Curtis and assigned to St. Benedict’s Parish in Stamford. Within months, he allegedly fondled an altar boy at the church.

By the time then-Bishop Edward Egan relented and removed him from the priesthood 28 years later, Pcolka had left behind a trail of victims, both male and female, who claim they were molested in churches, in his private quarters at church rectories and at a home he owned in New Hampshire.

One of those victims, George Rosado, eventually sued the diocese in 1993, triggering a deluge of lawsuits against the diocese that led to secret settlements costing millions of dollars and a seven-year court battle to keep those files secret.

On Tuesday, thousands of pages of court files from the Rosado case were released to the public. They show that both Curtis and Egan either ignored complaints against Pcolka and other abusive priests, or simply did not believe them.

The newly released documents include graphic descriptions of alleged rape and other sexual abuse, letters from the parents of victims urging church officials to take their complaints seriously and depositions in which church leaders reacted dismissively to repeated allegations of abuse.

The diocese issued a statement calling the documents “old news” that had been reported extensively by the press.

“Contrary to the naysayers, this is very old news. Between 1993 and 2002, media reports were published about these and other cases, including extensive Hartford Courant coverage in 2002 in an article that published, without permission, many of the sealed documents. The coverage included the names of the accused priests, critiques of the Diocese’s handling of the complaints, victims’ accounts, and many other details,” the diocese said in a statement.

“Over the past decade, the Diocese of Bridgeport — and, indeed, the Catholic Church throughout the United States — has brought about a significant culture change regarding the knowledge of and ability to deal with sexual abuse.”

But even as the diocese announced Tuesday that it was complying with a court order to release the documents, it withheld nearly 1,500 pages, asserting that those records were privileged under state and federal law and still subject to a court-ordered seal. The withheld documents include 685 pages taken from personnel files of as many as 17 priests who were the subjects of sexual abuse allegations.

The Courant in 2002 obtained Pcolka’s personnel file, along with other documents that included depositions from Egan and Curtis, and published a series of stories that showed Egan had failed to aggressively investigate some abuse allegations, reassigned priests he knew had allegations against them and generally downplayed allegations made against many of the priests.

Over the course of five depositions, which were among the documents released Tuesday, Curtis testified that he kept “secret archives” from whichhe regularly purged “antiquated” complaints of sexual abuse. Curtis also said he viewed pedophilia as “an occasional thing” and not a serious psychological problem, and indicated that he was more concerned with weeding out potential gays among clergy applicants.

In one deposition, Curtis claimed that there had been no complaints of children being sexually abused by a priest between 1961 and 1988 — even though multiple complaints had been filed.

Although a dozen people eventually said they were abused by Pcolka, Curtis testified that he didn’t remember any complaints against the priest, while Egan admitted that he dismissed many of the claims, simply saying in a deposition, “The 12 have never been proved to be telling the truth.”

Egan told attorneys for 23 alleged victims that he wasn’t interested in allegations — only “realities.” He added that “very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything” against a priest.

In 448 pages of depositions Egan was forced to give as part of 23 now-settled lawsuits against seven priests, the bishop showed little compassion for the alleged victims and instead argued with attorneys that only a “remarkably small number” of priests have ever been accused of wrongdoing.

“These things [sexual abuse complaints] happen in such small numbers. It’s marvelous when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have ever been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything,” Egan said in a deposition.

“Claims are one thing,” he said. “One does not take every claim against a human being as a proved misdeed. I’m interested in proved misdeeds.”

But Egan also acknowledged that he never attempted to seriously investigate the truth of such allegations — accusers were not interviewed, witnesses were not sought and no attempt was made to learn of other possible victims.

The files released Tuesday include an affidavit from a friend of Rosado’s sister who accompanied Rosado, his sister, his brother and Pcolka to Pcolka’s New Hampshire home sometime after 1977. The girl claims that she saw Pcolka rape the youngest boy and then sawone of them urinating on Pcolka while he was on the bed laughing.

Egan left to become the archbishop of New York in 2000. He was named cardinal of New York shortly before the lawsuits were settled in 2001. He retired earlier this year.

Critics of the diocese have said that church officials fought for nearly seven years to keep the documents sealed to protect Egan’s reputation while he was still active. The diocese appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this year declined to hear the case, paving the way for Superior Court Judge Barry Stevens in Waterbury to unseal the files.

“As awful as Cardinal Egan is, he had and has plenty of accomplices,” said David Clohassy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “The church hierarchy’s self-serving culture of secrecy is widespread and well-entrenched. He alone didn’t hide child sex crimes. His predecessor, successor and staff all helped enable child sex crimes, deceive parishioners, stonewall prosecutors and endanger children.

Of the seven priests involved in the lawsuits, one — Joseph Gorecki — has died. Five others — Pcolka, Laurence Brett, Charles Carr, Martin Federici and Philip Coleman — have been removed from the priesthood. One priest — Joseph Malloy — was exonerated, according to the Bridgeport diocese, and is now pastor at the St. Clement of Rome Parish in Stamford.

Copyright 2009 The Hartford Courant