The Diocese of Bridgeport and sexual abuse scandal activity are unfortunately in the news again. Tremont and Sheldon filed a lawsuit against Father Charles Stubbs and the Diocese according to a release on March 17, 2011. It is claimed that Bishop Walter Curtis had prior notice of Reverend Stubbs behavior but, still continued to allow him unfettered access to children in the Diocese.
On March 20, 2011 the CT Post recognized the nearly ten years of service that Bishop William Lori has provided to the Diocese, in an editorial, noting “the challenges of…the overarching scandal of pedophile priests”. The editors continued, “Under his leadership there has been no continued hiding of offenders through reassignment, and he created Safe Environment policies to protect children in the diocese.” Some would explain this “zero tolerance” approach as an outgrowth of the Dallas meeting of Bishops in 2002 to deal with the revelations of the Boston Archdiocese. However, a review of material released in the Rosado documents by Bishop Lori in 2009 would show that there was tolerance for multiple communication lapses and secret practices of previous Bishops who have not been criticized during Lori’s decade, nor who have suffered consequences.
Had the previous Bishops acted in the interests of the children and their families who reported abuse, priests would have not been transferred to other parishes or out of the Diocese. Priests sent for treatment of “sexually inappropriate or criminal behavior” would have had a higher standard of behavior reported by a healing institution than “the priest completed the treatment program”. Treatment professionals were not routinely recorded as saying that priests completing programs presented “no further risk of sexual abuse”. How concerned were the Bishops and the Monsignors who worked with the troubled clergy in effective dealing with the heinous behavior? How concerned were they with healing families with compassion? Where has Bishop Lori commented on this tragic history created by his episcopal predecessors?
And what about Bishop Lori’s uneven handling of priest “offenders”? Some priests have been reduced to the lay status. No public ministry. No appearance in priestly street garb. No pretence of being a priest one would think. But if such a man is living in Bridgeport today, or in Dublin, would it not be fair for the community to be aware that at one time the Diocese judged him to be unfit to continue ministry, because of his offenses? Why not report the name and location of that person today on the Diocesan site? The prime reason so few priests faced criminal charges, court trial and conviction is that Bishops all over the world covered their behavior until most were well beyond criminal “statutes of limitation”. But a sexual offender of youth if credibly accused and acknowledged by the Diocese does not have to be listed as a “sexual offender.” How safe is the environment where these men are living today?
Now if such a man is living in the Bridgeport region and the Catholic Directory of priests lists him as retired and though he is not assigned to a parish, he does on occasion appear in public in priest garb. Has he been reduced to lay status? If not, why not? Has his public ministry been suspended? Does the Diocese web site have a duty to provide such info in a true spirit of Safe Environment? And if he believes that he is innocent and a priest of integrity, what are his rights under Canon Law?
On March 22, 2011 the CT Post in a front page article reports that the diocese has settled a suit from 2009. Brian Wallace comments that the Church does not believe it committed any wrongdoing but “it’s just too expensive to continue to defend against this frivolous lawsuit brought by out-of state lawyers…trolling for lawsuits across the country.” Bishop Lori addressed this case brought by a Connecticut attorney who lives in the Diocese of Bridgeport on behalf of the Estate of Michael Powel to parishes across the county in December 2009. He called it the “Lawn Man Liability Suit” failing to appreciate that behavior of a 40 year worker on Church grounds would be considered a Church responsibility. Isn’t that why all persons involved in employment, volunteer activity, ministry of any kind and indeed, those who entered a Church to repair a roof or basement are required to take Safe Environment course work? All need to be aware of what constitutes predatory behavior according to risk managers. But what Diocesan course will make us aware of the aberrant management behavior that allowed the predatory behavior to persist for so long?
Brian Wallace failed to tell readers that the Diocese retains its own specialist out-of-state law firm. I assume that “trolling” is not permitted in Colorado but I also assume that Diocesan lawyers, from Connecticut and other states are paid. Perhaps fishing with flies or casting nets, as Christ directed, is different. The Diocese has never provided the extent of its legal expenses. As a matter of fact the Diocese has put out no comprehensive audited financial reports on its site, and has failed to update even three limited reports since June 30, 2008. Many people have reduced their giving to the Church or stopped it totally.
In the case of Michael Powel, Monsignor Bronkiewicz, who was involved in clergy supervision for years, kept silent though he knew that “the Lawnman” had admitted child sexual abuse. Did he not believe that safe environment trumps power abuse any day? Bridgeport has some way to go before they can be considered a model Safe Environment program. Open, accountable and transparent process and practice is not yet evident in too many areas.
John Marshall Lee,
30 Beacon Street
Bridgeport, CT 06605