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Archive for September, 2010
Recent news stories have raised the question: when did the Vatican first become aware of the problem of priestly sexual abuse? As early as 1966 Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, informed then Bishop Walter W. Curtis of Bridgeport of the Vatican’s advice on how to deal with a family distraught over the abuse of their son, Mark Frechette, by Lawrence Brett, a diocesan priest. The family hoped that the diocese would help to pay for Mark’s psychiatric care, but Bishop Curtis denied any responsibility.
Commiserating with Curtis, Vagnozzi remarked that recounting such a sad story “must have caused you great heaviness of heart. We expect failures in our life but we never become accustomed to experiences as sordid as that involving one of the young priests of Bridgeport. I am anxious too for the Frechettes that there may be manifested to them the concern and understanding that they expect from their father in Christ. . . . They obviously now need reassurance that the Church is interested. In this situation I believe that it will be helpful if Your Excellency receives them and tries to be as sympathetic as possible. Such an expression of pastoral concern may relieve them while an official attitude may leave them bitter.
In December 1366 Vagnozzi conveyed to Curtis the observations of the Sacred Congregation of the Council in Rome concerning the matter: “The Holy See notes that neither the Ordinary [the bishop] nor the diocese of Bridgeport are obliged in strict justice to meet the expenses in the illness of the young man. This would be true even if it were proved that the priest in question was the cause of his condition. In such a case action for damages could be taken against the priest as an individual. However, in a larger non-juridical sense the authorities in the Church have a responsibility for the actions of the priests subject to them. Most Catholics think, in a vague way, that the Bishop is accountable for the transgressions of his priests and that he should protect the faithful. They would not press a claim, though, to the extent that the Frechettes have. The comment I have [made] recognizes the difficulty of your own position. If you admit a claim of this kind, you cannot know where it will end. Moreover, if acceptance of responsibility in such a case becomes publicly known, you might be vulnerable in any number of other situations. The suggestion is made that the diocese of Bridgeport may have some funds at its disposal for charitable purposes. Some allocation might be made from them to the Frechette family in such a way that the Church itself and not the diocese of Bridgeport will be thought of as offering assistance. This would safeguard the position of Your Excellency and at the same time meet the allegations that the Church is not interested in the welfare of her children when they are in trouble.”
While expressing pastoral concern for the Frechette family, Archbishop Vagnozzi seems more concerned with the burden imposed on Bishop Curtis, who was attempting to evade financial responsibility in this matter. While acknowledging that Catholics have a vague notion that bishops are responsible for their priests and that Curtis should make some charitable gesture toward the Frechettes, the Vatican also recognized that if news of this got out, others might make financial demand on the diocese. A truly compassionate, pastoral response!
If you would like to hear more evidence from court documents concerning priestly sexual abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport, save the date, Saturday, November 13, and come to the Concert Hall at Norwalk City Hall for a dramatic presentation entitled “Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned!”