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Norwich diocese identifies 43 priests accused of sexually abusing children, says it paid $7.7 million in settlements

Norwich diocese identifies 43 priests accused of sexually abusing children, says it paid $7.7 million in settlements
The Diocese of Norwich on Sunday released the names of the 43 priests that have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and acknowledged that it has paid nearly $8 million to settle some of those claims. (Associated Press file photo) (Gerald Herbert / AP)

The Diocese of Norwich revealed Sunday it had an association with 43 priests that have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and acknowledged that it has paid nearly $8 million to settle nine claims, but a prominent New London law firm is questioning whether that number is too low.

The list includes 22 priests who were ordained in the Diocese of Norwich and were accused of abuse while working in the diocese. Among them are priests, such as Richard T. Buongirno and Thomas W. Shea, who were sued by multiple victims. There are also seven priests who belonged to religious orders and served in the diocese and 12 priests who served or resided in the diocese but were accused of sexual abuse while serving in another diocese. There were two priests — Louis Paturzo and Bruno Primavera — who spent time in both the Norwich diocese and the Hartford Archdiocese.

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Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote announced to parishioners in a letter read at Masses across the diocese Sunday that the list would be made public that afternoon. Cote is following the lead of the state’s two other dioceses — Hartford and Bridgeport — which already have released their rosters of accused priests.

But unlike Bridgeport and Hartford, Cote has not announced hiring an independent source to review all of the diocese personnel files and make an separate report. Both Bridgeport and Hartford have hired retired state judges to conduct such reviews.

The Norwich diocese has 76 priests and serves about 228,000 Catholics, compared to 131 priests and about 538,000 Catholics in Hartford and 82 priests and 410,000 Catholics in Bridgeport.

“I am grievously sorry for the horrific sins and crimes made against the most vulnerable among us who have suffered sexual abuse and misconduct. I offer again my deepest and heartfelt apology on behalf of the Church to the victims of child abuse and their families suffering painful life-long consequences,” Cote said in a statement.

“I know that the release of these names will cause pain for some victims, families of the accused, friends and parishioners. It is my hope and prayer that this effort to let the light shine on this dark chapter in the life of the Church will bring some measure of peace, healing, and acknowledgement to those who have been directly harmed and to all members of our faith community.”

Cote also announced that, since July 1, 1977, the Diocese of Norwich has paid almost $7.7 million in settlements to victims in connection with nine cases.

But New London attorneys Robert Reardon and Kelly Reardon said Sunday their firm alone has settled cases for more than $8 million since 2003. The firm has settled at least eight cases, including multiple cases against Shea.

“We are pleased that the Diocese of Norwich is finally taking a step toward transparency by releasing information about its priests accused of molesting children. Nonetheless, the numbers provided by them do not match those gathered from the records of The Reardon Law Firm for cases settled," Kelly Reardon said Sunday. “Our firm has received $8,160,000 in payments since 2003 for a total of nine cases settled involving the Diocese of Norwich. The Diocese is only reporting $7,681,646 in payments.

"Although we handled many of the cases involving diocesan priests, we know there were others handled by other firms that resulted in additional settlements. We believe the diocese should follow the lead of the Archdioceses of Hartford and Bridgeport in conducting an independent investigation to bring the entirety of this problem to light. We also strongly believe that the statute of limitations for civil sexual abuse claims should be eliminated once and for all to allow all victims to receive just compensation for the heinous crimes committed upon them and perpetrated by the Church.”

Diocese spokesman Wayne Gignac could not be reached for comment Sunday. The diocese released Cote’s letter and said there would be no further comment.

There are 23 more lawsuits pending against the diocese, Cote said. Many of the pending cases were filed recently by victims claiming they were abused at The Academy at Mount St. John, a Deep River residential treatment center, in the 1990s.

The bishop of the Norwich diocese is a member of the Mount St. John board of directors and is responsible for appointing the executive director. The lawsuits allege that then-Bishop Daniel Reilly appointed Brother K. Paul McGlade, who is one of the brothers alleged to have abused teenagers in Deep River.

The lawsuits allege that McGlade and other teachers were under the supervision of the diocese and therefore the diocese is liable for their actions — a distinction that the diocese has fought in previous legal actions. The victims were between 10 and 15 years old and the incidents occurred between 1986 and 2000, the lawsuits said.

Cote said almost $4.9 million of the priest abuse settlements was paid by its insurance company, $1 million came from the diocesan general fund and almost $1.8 million in payments were made by entities such as religious orders or other dioceses the priests belonged to, as well as by the accused priests themselves.

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He acknowledged there have been other victims unable to file suits because the statute of limitations has expired.

In his letter to parishioners, Cote defined an “allegation of substance” as one in which the priest has pleaded guilty or no contest in criminal court to any incident of sexual misconduct; the allegation has been investigated and “been determined to be reasonable, plausible, probable and bearing the semblance of the truth”; is corroborated with other evidence or another source; and/or has been acknowledged or admitted to by the accused priest.

He added that no donor restricted funds, bequests or contributions designated for a special purpose, such as the Annual Catholic Appeal, were used to pay settlements.

Cote also stated there is currently no priest or deacon in active ministry in the diocese who is the subject of an allegation of substance regarding the sexual abuse of a minor.

The named priests ordained in the Norwich Diocese are: Robert W. Barnes, Bernard W. Bissonnette, Richard T. Buongirno, Salvatore L. Busca, Anthony R. Caron, Dennis G. Carey, Santino A. Casimano, Roger M. Comtois, James A. Curry, Edward F. Frigault, Denis Galipeau, Roman S. Gromala, Paul L. Hebert, Raymond J. Jean, John A. Kozon, Vincent F. Marino, R. Thomas McConaghy, Joseph P. Murphy, John C. Nash, J. Lawrence Ouimet, John B. Ramsay and Thomas W. Shea.

Priests from other dioceses or religious orders include: Louis Paturzo, Bruno Primavera, Richard Cardarelli, Thomas J. Doyle, Charles Many, Eugene Orteneau, Robert Leo Pelkington, Patrick Sullivan and Thomas Paschal.

The priests from other dioceses who served in Norwich, but were accused elsewhere, are: Joseph Buckley, William J. Cullen, Joseph Gorecky, Michael Krol, Felix Maguire, Edward P. McGrath, Frank J. McManus, Peter Mitchell, Paul Pinard, Edward Reardon, Robert E. Shea and Felix Werpechowski.

Many of the priests that at one point served in Norwich but were accused in other dioceses were from the Hartford Archdiocese. Several of the priests named by Norwich, including Buckley, Maguire and Robert Shea, were also on the list of priests released by the Hartford Archdiocese last month. It was common for priests to be moved between churches and dioceses after they had been accused of sexual abuse.

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Dave Altimari can be reached at daltimari@courant.com.

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