Deacon accuses Niantic priest of attempted sexual assault

Deacon Mark King and his wife Susan in front of their Charlotte, N.C, home Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. (Joe Wojtas/The Day)
Deacon Mark King and his wife Susan in front of their Charlotte, N.C, home Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. (Joe Wojtas/The Day)

A former deacon at Sacred Heart Church in Groton has alleged that the current pastor of St. Agnes Church in Niantic, the Rev. Gregory Mullaney, repeatedly propositioned him for sex while on a 2006 trip to Rome and tried to sexually assault him in the street after he fled from a restaurant where the two had been dining.

In addition, Deacon Mark King alleges in a sworn statement he made in 2006 that during the trip Mullaney drank heavily and made numerous crude sexual remarks about other priests, nuns and church employees, some of whom he said he'd had sex with in violation of Catholic law.

"Marco, what do you say? Let's go back to the room and get it on. Come on, what are you afraid of?" Mullaney allegedly said to King during one of his wine-fueled lunches. Later Mullaney added, "You know you want it and I'm going to give it you," and told King that "what happens in Rome stays in Rome." Many of the other alleged comments in the statement are too graphic for publication.

King reported Mullaney's actions to Diocese of Norwich. Mullaney was removed from Sacred Heart and since has been assigned to at least three other parishes, including St. Agnes.

The diocese refused to release a list of Mullaney's parish assignments or say if there have been other complaints. Bishop Michael Cote declined a request for an interview about King's allegations. Diocesan spokesman Wayne Gignac said that "publicly addressing specific allegations on individual matters is improper and unfair to the involved parties."

Mullaney, who didn't respond to phone and email messages, declined to comment on King's allegations when asked about them outside St. Agnes two weeks ago.

During a four-hour interview Oct. 31 in the kitchen of their current home in Charlotte, N.C., King and his wife, Susan, a licensed marriage and family therapist, questioned why Cote would risk protecting Mullaney and in 2009 transfer him to St. Thomas Aquinas Church, which serves students at the University of Connecticut. From 2007 to 2009, he served at St. Colman Church in Middlefield, according to that church's website.

"The truth has to be told," King said. "This is not against Greg (Mullaney). He is a sick man. But (the problem) is perpetuating itself. If nothing is said, then nothing gets done. You have people dropping 10, 15, 20 bucks in the (collection) basket each week and they put their trust in the bishop to do the right thing."

"I'm not looking for any money. I'm looking for people to be safe," he added.

King is among a group of men and women who have contacted The Day this fall to say they were assaulted by priests in the Diocese of Norwich. Some decided to come forward and publicly tell their stories for the first time in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August that found 300 Catholic priests in that state had sexually assaulted more than a thousand children over seven decades.

In King's case, he was angered by comments Cote made to The Day in September, in which the bishop outlined steps the diocese has taken to deal with complaints of priest sexual abuse. Cote had stated he would not turn over diocesan records to police or the chief state's attorney's office and said he didn't have the authority to take action against former Bishop of Norwich Daniel P. Reilly, who transferred numerous priests accused of sexually assaulting children in three states.

Gail Howard, one of the leaders of the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she had not heard stories of priests trying to sexually assault adult deacons.

"But I'm certainly not surprised, given the level of corruption we see in the church. Why wouldn't it happen?" she said.

In an interview with The Day, the Rev. Paul Holland, a friend of King and a priest who now serves as secretary for formation and Jesuit Life at the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C., confirmed that shortly after the Rome trip, King told him what had happened.

"He was very disturbed and upset about the whole thing," Holland said, adding that they discussed it on three occasions. "I told him, 'You can't just tell me, you have to tell the diocese.'"

Holland, who had been pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas from 1996 to 2004, was shocked by the allegations. "It was hard for me to imagine how this could happen. But I know Mark to be someone who does not overdramatize something. I was convinced it was serious," he said.

Becoming a deacon

The now 56-year-old King grew up in Waterbury, Chicago and then Stamford, where he attended high school and was part of a devout Irish Catholic family, which had its family name on a pew in the church they attended. He graduated from UConn in 1983 with a degree in animal science and, two years later, married Sue, whom he had met in high school and who also went to UConn.

They began studying to become lay ministers at St. Andrew Church in Colchester, where it was suggested King should begin the intensive five-year program to become a deacon. While in Colchester, he served as the assistant fire chief and was an auxiliary state trooper at Troop K. In 2002 he began working in clinical research at Pfizer in Groton.

King was ordained a deacon on June 12, 2005. At the ceremony, Sue King recalled that the message was clear: You are handing your husband over to the church.

During the ordination, King had to place his hands in those of the bishop and promise obedience to the bishop and his successors. He also had to vow to never remarry if Sue died.

"We were all on board. We were now part of this great institution," Sue King recalled.

Because St. Andrew did not need another deacon in 2005, King began looking for a parish where he could serve. He and his wife settled on Sacred Heart, in large part because it had a special education program that one of their three daughters needed, as well as being close to Pfizer. They moved into a home on Bridge Street in Groton City.

"This is wonderful," King recalled thinking at the time.

Mullaney was the pastor at Sacred Heart, and King's initial impression upon meeting him was that he was cordial, charming and gregarious. "He seemed like a nice guy," King recalled.

He said he and Mullaney soon became like Batman and Robin. If the air conditioning broke, they would climb up on the roof together to fix it. King gave homilies, visited sick members of the parish and presided over baptisms, weddings and funerals. The Kings socialized with Mullaney and took a trip to New York City with him.

Mullaney, who speaks Italian, told them he went to Rome each year to buy vestments and books and invited King to accompany him on his upcoming trip. Sue King encouraged her husband, who always wanted to visit Rome, to take Mullaney up on his offer.

Five days before they were scheduled to leave on the 11-day trip in February 2006, the Kings said, their home was burglarized. King, worried about leaving his family, told Mullaney he would have to skip the trip. But he said Mullaney told him he would make the trip happen, offering to get the family a big dog and then calling an alarm company to install an alarm.

"Looking back, he worked really hard to make this trip happen," Sue King recalled. "I kicked myself later because there were red flags I didn't notice."

The trip to Rome

According to the four-page signed statement King gave to the late Monsignor Robert Brown, who was a high-ranking church official in the diocese, and diocesan investigator Deacon Al Fecteau, and which King provided a copy of to The Day, the first time he was troubled by Mullaney's conduct was on the morning of the third day of the trip, when he knocked on the priest's hotel room door to begin a day of touring the city.

When Mullaney answered the door, he told King he'd had a rough night. When King asked him why, Mullaney said, "The Twisted Sisters broke in last night and jumped me and raped me and one of them stuck her (expletive) in my face."

"I was a little stunned and baffled that a priest would talk like that, particularly when we were preparing to go celebrate Mass. I tried to make light of it and go on with the day," King said.

Each morning, King said, Mullaney would relate some "highly inappropriate story" about his night's activities. King began asking Mullaney how he could talk like that and then go to Mass.

Then, according to King, Mullaney's behavior became worse. King said each day at lunch Mullaney would order a liter of wine and then drink more alcohol after dinner. At these lunches, King said, Mullaney would make sexually graphic comments to him.

"You want it Marco, you want it bad" and "Come on, be my (expletive)," he said at one point. "Come on, let's go into the bathroom, just you and I, we'll be quick, you want it, you know you want it bad."

King said at one point Mullaney tried to convince him to submit to his advances by saying, "Come on, be a good deacon."

One day at lunch, King said Mullaney reached under the restaurant table, grabbed King's foot, forced it into his groin area and untied his shoe. King pulled his foot away and his shoe came off.

On the last night in Rome, King said, a drunken Mullaney began making embarrassing comments to the couple sitting next to them. King said he left the restaurant and Mullaney followed him. He said he tried to walk faster but the larger Mullaney came up behind, grabbed him and repeatedly thrust his groin against King's buttocks. King yelled at Mullaney to get away.

In the interview with The Day, King said he considered "decking" Mullaney. He worried, though, that he could be arrested for assault, especially since Mullaney spoke Italian and he didn't, and he would be in trouble with the bishop.

Mullaney finally walked away and King made a tearful call to his wife.

"I never heard my husband cry like that," she said.

When Sue King got off the phone, she called a nun she knew who advised her to contact the chancery office at the diocese. She did and was told by Brown to have King come to the chancery when he got home.

Sue King picked up her husband at the airport. During the car ride home, King said he wrote down what had happened on the trip. The next day he used those notes to relate the story to Brown and Fecteau during his meeting with them. At the time, Cote was out of town, King said. The Feb. 24, 2006, statement was typed up and King signed it, as did his wife and Fecteau as witnesses. Brown signed it in his capacity as a notary public.

When shown a copy of the complaint on Wednesday, Fecteau, now retired, confirmed the signature was his but said he did not recall taking the complaint or the meeting with King. He pointed out that he took thousands of complaints during his career as a Norwich police officer, the chief of security at Norwich Free Academy and then as a diocesan investigator.

In his statement, King said that throughout the trip, he became progressively stronger in his objections to Mullaney's behavior, at one point hollering at him on the street and on more than one occasion letting him know his advances were unwelcome.

"Initially, I tried to dismiss Father Greg's behavior as (somehow) being like two college kids on (a) field trip. Then for a while I kept telling myself that the next day would be better. Towards the end I tried to manage things so that I was not around him when the behavior began to deteriorate. I also wrestled with the fact that I was a newly ordained deacon and the impact of my response to Father Greg upon my ministry. I was also concerned about the impact of my response upon Father Greg," he wrote.

King stressed in his statement that he never expressed any interest in having any form of relationship with Mullaney other than a shared ministry and a possible friendship. "I have not and never have had any interest in engaging in the type of relationship that Father Greg tried to develop between us. His advances were always unwelcome," he wrote.

King went on to write that he could not continue as a deacon at Sacred Heart.

"There's nothing in that statement that's inflated or made up. I swear by every word of it," King said in his October interview with The Day.

The aftermath

At the end of their chancery meeting, the Kings said they were instructed by Monsignor Brown not to say anything about what had happened in order to protect Mullaney's privacy.

"They told us don't say a word to anybody. Mark was sworn to secrecy," Sue King recalled. "I left the room thinking there was no doubt, these people will take care of it. Mark is a deacon. He is one of their own."

King added, "I felt they would take it seriously. It was just a few years after (the) Boston (scandal)."

They said Mullaney moved out of the rectory the next day, a Saturday. They did not know where he was sent.

King said he then had to pretend nothing had happened and helped celebrate Mass at Sacred Heart.

Over the next several months, parishioners repeatedly questioned what had happened to Mullaney and some blamed King for the departure. King was upset when the parish invited Mullaney back for a farewell without telling him.

The Kings said they wanted Cote to speak to the parish about what happened, in part to encourage other potential victims to come forward, but the bishop ignored their requests.

The Kings said other priests and religious people they spoke with suggested they leave the area and re-establish themselves elsewhere. Their advice came as King was concerned about the viability of his Pfizer job and was offered a position with Atrium Health in Charlotte, which comprises almost 500 hospitals and health care locations in the Carolinas. The Kings moved in December 2008, and he now works as assistant vice president for research administration at Atrium.

Bishop Cote had written a letter to King regretfully accepting his resignation and thanking him for his service at Sacred Heart and said that once he was settled in North Carolina and was ready to resume his ministry as a deacon, he would write a letter of introduction and statement of suitability to the Charlotte diocese. King provided a copy of Cote's letter to The Day.  

So it came as a shock to King when he met with the head of deacons in Charlotte and was asked about a letter in his file from the Norwich diocese that said he'd had a "falling out" with the priest at Sacred Heart. King said he then explained to the Charlotte diocesan officials what had happened with Mullaney. King provided The Day with emails about the issue between him and the Charlotte diocese. Since being appointed a deacon in Charlotte, he has been assigned to two churches and now ministers to Catholic patients in the hospital where he works.

Like many alleged victims of sexual assault at the hands of priests and bishops, King said he has struggled to deal with the experience. Even his daughters, ages 18, 27 and 30, did not know the details of what had occurred with Mullaney, only that "something bad" happened to their father. He said he told them the story after his interview with The Day.

"I wanted this to go way. I was ashamed. I didn't think anyone would believe me. I felt like I wasn't a real man for not decking him. I had a lot of struggles with God. Where were you? How could you let this happen to me?" he said. "Today, I have a very hard time trusting anyone, especially the clergy. Many of these men are passing themselves off as something they are not."

j.wojtas@theday.com

Editor's Note: Our policy is to not allow comments on any story about sexual assault.

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