VIDEO: Priest sex abuse settlement stirs old aches for local man

John Waddington speaks during an interview at The Day in London on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, about his experience surviving sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest, and being awarded a settlement of $850,000 that was eventually overturned.  (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
John Waddington speaks during an interview at The Day in London on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, about his experience surviving sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest, and being awarded a settlement of $850,000 that was eventually overturned. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)

John Waddington felt the blood drain from his face when his girlfriend called him last month to say a former altar boy at Sacred Heart Church in Groton who was molested by a priest in the late 1970s and early 1980s received a $900,000 settlement from Catholic church officials.

Waddington's cubemates at Electric Boat saw his face go pale and thought somebody in his family had died, the 54-year-old electrical designer said during an interview Thursday.

The news of Andrew Aspinwall's settlement brought Waddington back to the day in 1978 when he, a 14-year-old altar boy at Sacred Heart, was sexually assaulted by former priest Charles Many.

Same church, same priest, same time period.

"It was like it happened to me again," Waddington said.

The now-disgraced former priest had arrived at Sacred Heart a few years earlier and started a youth group. Waddington said Many kept asking him to watch a movie in his room at the rectory. The priest was "a really soft-spoken, mellow kind of guy," Waddington said, and he relented.

"He puts on 'The Exorcist' and molests me, and I didn't remember it until I was 28," Waddington said. The intense feelings associated with a divorce from his first wife and a confrontation at work triggered the memory, he said. He suffers from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. He's been married and divorced three times, and has had years of counseling.

"It's kind of like a part of me was left behind back there," he said. "If something happens, I get really upset."

For 25 years, Waddington has been telling people that Many sexually assaulted him.

He told a jury of six people in U.S. District Court about it in 2001, and they awarded him $850,000 in his lawsuit against Many and Many's religious order, the Colchester, Vt.-based Society of St. Edmund. But Judge Janet C. Hall overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial after ruling that evidence about the priest's prior involvement with a 16-year-old parishioner in Vermont had been admitted improperly.

New London attorney Kelly E. Reardon, who represented Aspinwall in the lawsuit settled last month, said that Waddington, if he opted for a second trial, would have been able to sue only Many, who has few resources, because the judge had dismissed the claims against the Edmundites.

"My understanding is that Judge Hall believed at the time there was not enough evidence that the Society of St. Edmund had prior notice of Father Many's bad behavior that would prove they were negligent," Reardon said.

Reardon said she doesn't know what evidence there was at the time of Waddington's trial regarding the Edmundites' knowledge of prior allegations against the priest, but that in Aspinwall's case, she was able to gather enough information of the religious order's prior knowledge to obtain the significant settlement he received. She had obtained documents from Edmundite archives indicating that church officials knew as early as 1976, two years before he arrived at Sacred Heart, that Many was "receiving boys in his room."

A spokesman for the Society of St. Edmund did not respond to a an email from The Day this week or a recent phone message. But when Waddington, refueled with anger by the news of Aspinwall's settlement, reached out to the order's superior general through email on Jan. 30, he received a response within five hours. The gist of the email from the Very Rev. Stephen Hornat was that Waddington should have his lawyer talk to the order's attorney.

Waddington had written to Hornat that it seemed only fair he receive the settlement he was awarded in 2001.

"We (Waddington and Aspinwall) went to school at Sacred Heart and the circumstances are exactly the same," he wrote. "Why the judge at the time didn't believe me, I don't know? I've been through hell and back over this the past 25 years and I do not want to go through this again at 55 years old."

The response from Hornat referenced a restraining order issued in 2007, when Waddington was charged with trespassing by Colchester, Vt., police after driving to St. Michael's College, run by the Edmundites, to confront officials. Waddington was on the phone with the police as he drove toward the college. The church officials told police they didn't want Waddington on the grounds, and police arrested him upon his arrival.

"Due to the restraining order that had been previously imposed upon you as a result of threats to the Edmundite Community, all further communications with the Edmundites need to go through our respective attorneys," Hornat wrote to Waddington. "You can forward me the name of your attorney and I will submit to our legal counsel. They can best advise us as to moving forward with your request."

Waddington said the trespassing charge was dismissed, but the incident cost him his security clearance at Electric Boat, where he has worked for 36 years. He said he has a white badge instead of a red one and is prohibited from certain areas of the submarine manufacturer's property.

Waddington said he anticipates a comfortable retirement based on his long career at EB, but that he still feels he hasn't been properly compensated for the suffering he endured at the hands of the church officials that knew Many was abusing young boys but allowed him to continue working with them. He said after the Boston Globe Spotlight team in 2002 exposed a widespread pattern in the Roman Catholic church of covering up molestation of minors by priests, everybody started to believe those who had disclosed their own abuse.

Even if he wanted to sue the church again, Waddington couldn't, since the statute of limitations for victims of sexual assaults to make personal injury claims expires 30 years after the victim turns 18 years old, which is considered the age of majority. Waddington said he would have liked to have seen Many charged criminally, but that never happened.

Reardon said Waddington helped her prepare the Aspinwall lawsuit, providing documents he obtained during his own case and putting her in touch with witnesses. Reardon said she had lined up several people who were prepared to testify they, too, had been assaulted by Many. The Aspinwall case was scheduled for jury selection in January, but was settled during mediation prior to trial.

"Even though he (Waddington) ultimately did not feel as if he received justice, he wanted to make sure somebody else did," Reardon said.

In preparing the Aspinwall case, Reardon said she deposed Many via video conference from the senior apartment complex where he lives in Chittenden, Vt.

Documents reveal that complaints against Many continued to mount after he left Sacred Heart in 1981. A psychiatrist who evaluated Many in 1986 described him as a lonely and sad man who "suffers from a serious sexual perversion which is characterized by an at times irresistible sexual attraction to young adolescent boys."

Reardon, who put together a timeline of Many's career with the church, said Many was told in 1986 after a complaint in Vermont that he would no longer serve as a parish priest. Reardon said the Edmudites petitioned the Pope for a dispensation to release Many from the priesthood, but that Many resigned voluntarily in 1995.

Waddington has been bolstered by Aspinwall's settlement, the flood of disclosures of sexual abuse resulting from the #MeToo movement and by the lengthy sentence that gymnastic doctor Larry Nassar received for sexually assaulting young women athletes. Waddington said he's been called a liar in the past and told he was going to hell, but that he now feels as if people believe him. He hopes his story gives others the strength to come forward and offered to speak with anybody who wants to tell their story.

"I would love to see all those other people call the newspaper, TV, or see a lawyer," he said.

k.florin@theday.com

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