Man sues Norwich diocese, Groton church over sexual conduct of two priests

A man has sued the Diocese of Norwich and retired Bishop Daniel Reilly, alleging he was the target of sexual assault and misconduct by two different priests connected with Sacred Heart Church in Groton.

He alleges the first incident occurred at the church when he was a 7-year-old altar boy, and then numerous others when he was a teenager by another priest who allegedly took him on “sleepovers” and plied him with whiskey.

Court records show the lawsuit was filed on behalf of John Doe, a pseudonym, by a New Haven law firm. The suit also named as defendants Sacred Heart Church, The Society of St. Edmund, the Rev. Charles Many and the estate of the late Father J. Lawrence Ouimet.

The suit is one of many filed against the diocese and Reilly in which adults now allege they were sexually assaulted as children by priests working in the diocese. Many of these incidents allegedly occurred during the 1975-1994 tenure of Reilly, who records show transferred priests he knew had been accused of sexually assaulting children to other parishes. The diocese has paid out more than $8 million in settlements to victims, one of whom says he was assaulted by Many, and faces more than 20 pending suits by other alleged victims.

Earlier this year, the diocese released a list of 45 priests who have had “allegations of substance” made against them. Both Many and Ouimet were on the list but the diocese offered no information about the allegations against them, which parishes they served or whether it had reported the allegations to police or the state Department of Children and Families as it has been required by law to do since 1971 if abuse is suspected.

John Doe’s lawsuit states that he was raised in a devout Catholic family that was active members of Sacred Heart Church. The suit alleges that in 1978, when the boy was a second-grader at the Sacred Heart school, he was confessing his sins in the dimly lit and sequestered confessional when Many told him to stand up and come over to him. The suit alleges Many then pulled the boy toward him, positioned his upper leg between the boys legs and elevated him so the boy’s groin was on Many’s leg.

Many then hugged and kissed the boy, directed the boy to kiss him and held the boy in this position until he said the boy’s confessed sins had been absolved. The suit states Many currently is living in Williston, Vt.

The suit also alleges that over a several-year period prior to 1988, Ouimet “engaged in grooming behaviors" toward Doe, who was a minor. These included giving him whiskey and other alcohol, bringing him to dinner, arranging for him to sleep at the Sacred Heart Church Rectory, and transporting him across Connecticut and state lines for "sleepovers," including one at a luxury hotel. The suit also charges Ouimet invited the teen to share a bed with him and engaged in talk about sexual experiences and masturbation. The suit alleges that in 1988 Ouimet brought the teen, who was still a minor, to a neighboring state, gave him whiskey and other alcohol and took him to an unoccupied athletic facility. Ouimet then allegedly disrobed and stood naked in front of the seated Doe and demanded Doe take off his clothes and join him in a hot tub.

Both Many and Ouimet were priests from the Society of St. Edmund, which is headquartered in Vermont, who were transferred from Canada to the Norwich Diocese and assigned to Sacred Heart. Ouimet, who was removed from ministry in 1999 and died in 2002, also served as the Groton Town police chaplain.

The suit alleges the actions of the diocese, Reilly and the Society of St. Edmund, including maintaining a secret file to shield the two priests from prosecution, and failing to report their actions, was done as part “of a national scheme” to conceal the sexual molestation of minors by the employees, agents or servants of the Catholic Church, and coordinated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, an action it states continues today.

Doe's attorneys, Marisa Bellair and Ron Meneo, said Wednesday that their client decided to come forward to expose not only what happened to him but also the abuse he knows others were subjected to. They declined to discuss details about him to protect his identity. The court has allowed him to file his case using a pseudonym, which often occurs in such cases.

Diocesan spokesman Wayne Gignac said Thursday it is the policy of the diocese not to comment on pending litigation.       

Last year, the diocese, Reilly, Sacred Heart Church and the Society of St. Edmund paid Andrew Aspinwall of New London $900,000 after he had sued them, charging that Many had sexually assaulted him when he was an altar boy in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Aspinwall’s attorney, Kelly Reardon of New London, had said at the time she had identified a number of other individuals who were molested by Many and were prepared to tell a jury about their experiences and the fact that they had told other priests in the parish what occurred “on many occasions.” Reardon said she had obtained documents from the Edmundite archives demonstrating that officials from the church had knowledge that Many was “receiving boys in his room” as early as 1976, two years before he was transferred to the parish in Groton.

John Waddington of Groton also alleges he was sexually assaulted by Many at Sacred Heart Church in Groton in 1978, when he was a 14-year-old altar boy. In 2001 he was awarded $850,000 by a jury, but a judge overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial because the judge said she should not have allowed testimony by Many that he was involved in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy seven years after Waddington. Waddington did not seek a second trial as the Society of St. Edmund, which Many belonged to, had been removed from the suit and Waddington would not be able to collect much money from Many, who had denied the allegations.

Earlier this year Waddington called on Bishop Michael Cote to deposit a $1 million check in his bank account.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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