Church settles abuse case; local victim goes public

Hartford — Mary Howarth Maynard was looking for an apology from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich along with a $1.1 million settlement.

The 48-year-old New London woman, who went public Thursday with the story of her molestation in 1976 at the hands of the late Rev. Thomas W. Shea, will be getting the money, but may never hear the word "sorry" from a church official.

Her civil lawsuit against the diocese, retired Bishop Daniel P. Reilly and Monsignor Thomas Bride was resolved in Superior Court just as a jury assembled for the first day of trial.

The lack of an apology was disappointing, Maynard said, but she did get the satisfaction of confronting Reilly, who had transferred Shea to St. Joseph Church in New London knowing the priest had a history of fondling young girls.

"I told him, 'Shame on you,'" Maynard said.

Had the case gone to trial, plaintiff's attorneys Robert I. Reardon Jr. and Kelly E. Reardon would have called Reilly as their first witness and followed up with several other Shea victims.

Reilly, who is 84 years old and lives in a church rectory in Worcester, arrived at the courthouse mid-morning with Bride and appeared relaxed as he sat on the witness stand while an associate from the diocese's law firm tested the courtroom acoustics and asked practice questions.

At the trial, Maynard's attorneys planned to put into evidence a portion of an April 2005 letter that a Reilly successor, Bishop Michael Cote, wrote to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the man who shortly thereafter became Pope Benedict XVI.

Cote wrote that the "trail of destruction caused by Thomas W. Shea is staggering." He wrote that there were at least 15 credible cases of abuse by Shea of girls under the age of 18, including one who tried to kill herself three times before she turned 23.

The complaints against Shea had started the year the 48-year-old Maynard was born and continued for years after the day she fled the church choir loft in terror, according to Robert Reardon.

"Another troublesome aspect of this case includes a 1965 letter that describes Shea fondling little girls," he said.

Priest abuse cases rarely go to trial — only two have gone forward in Connecticut, according to Reardon — but it appeared that "Jane Doe vs. Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich et. al' would be aired before a jury.

Settlement talks began Wednesday afternoon, but the case was still unresolved as jurors assembled at the courthouse Thursday morning for the lawyers' opening statements.

On his last day as a state judge, Robert L. Holzberg, described by members of the bar as a gifted mediator, helped the two sides come to an agreement. After several phone calls between diocese attorneys and the church's insurance company as well as closed door conversations between the Reardons and Maynard, the case was resolved. Holzberg, who is going to work in private practice, donned a black robe for the last time to announce the 11th-hour agreement from the bench. He told both sides that he recognizes it is an "imperfect" resolution under all the circumstances.

Upon learning of the settlement, Reilly and Bride quickly left the courthouse. Maynard burst into tears and hugged her husband, New London City Councilor John Maynard, and her sister, Jean Perry.

Because of Shea, Maynard has undergone years of treatment and still requires care for severe depression and other psychological problems, according to her attorneys. She is unable to work.

The settlement is a bittersweet ending to an ordeal that kept her from living the life she would have chosen, Maynard said, but now she has the second half of her life. Though she had the right to remain anonymous, the mother of three said she chose to divulge her identity because she wanted the public to know there will be no more secrets in her life.

Maynard came forward with her story in 2007, after reading other reports of people who had been victimized by priests. She had never told anybody, she said, because she didn't want her father to know what had happened to her and she didn't want to "rock the boat" with her mother, a devout Catholic.

"There's a great deal of disappointment in the fact that the church still would not apologize," Maynard said. "I'm afraid for the future of the church until they become transparent and stop moving these monsters around."

Shea already had a history of inappropriate behavior with children when Reilly assigned him to the local parish in 1976, with orders that he be kept away from children. Maynard attended the nearby St. Mary's school but was a member of St. Joseph's parish.

Prior to his arrival in New London, the diocese had placed Shea on a two-year sick leave prompted by complaints from parents in a Higganum church that Shea was kissing their 8- and 10-year-old daughters. Two previous bishops also had transferred Shea from parish to parish and had placed him on sick leave after receiving similar complaints.

In 1979, Reilly transferred Shea to St. John Church in Norwich, where two girls, ages 11 and 13, complained about the priest. In 1982, Reilly sent Shea to St. John the Apostle Church and The Daughters of the Holy Ghost School in Plainfield. The next year, a woman came forward who said that as a child, Shea had made her touch him inappropriately. Reilly removed Shea and sent him for treatment but never went to police.

Shea died in 2006 at age 85.

The Norwich diocese has paid at least $5 million over the past several years to people who said they were abused by priests. At least one case is still pending.

The Catholic church has since enacted a "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" that includes a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate sexual behavior.

In the Maynard case, the diocese was represented by attorneys from the Milano & Wanat law firm of Branford, and attorney Wesley Horton of Hartford, who joined the defense team last week.

They declined to comment after the settlement was announced.

k.florin@theday.com

CORRECTION: Mary Howarth Maynard has three children. Information was incorrect in a previous story.

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