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Demonstrators demand accountability for Catholic clergy sex crimes

Norwich — A small group of demonstrators stood outside the Cathedral of Saint Patrick on Sunday to mark All Survivors' Day, which recognizes survivors of sexual abuse.

As men and women in military dress exited the Cathedral following the 28th annual Red, White & Blue Mass's reception, they strode past the group of demonstrators, which fluctuated between four and eight survivors and their supporters.

Protesters in Norwich from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests "stood in solidarity with survivors and supporters from CT Alliance to end Sexual Violence and other groups," according to a release before the event. People affiliated with SNAP held similar events at cathedrals in Hartford and Bridgeport on Sunday.

The main goal of the event was to call for the state legislature to eradicate all statutes of limitation for sex crimes. At the moment, those who allege they were sexually assaulted by priests cannot file civil lawsuits against the church if they are 51 or older.

Tim McGuire of New London, who alleges that he was sexually assaulted by a priest in Noank as an 8-year-old altar boy, has become an ardent advocate for survivors. On Sunday, he held a sign reading "Say no to the Catholic fondling of state laws. Your laws!"

"We stand out in front of the church to protest the fact they've been lobbying against their own victims," McGuire said. "I think the church has spent almost a million dollars in the state of Connecticut alone on lobbying efforts to keep the laws as they are. So if you wait too long, they successfully hid behind a rock long enough and they're not culpable anymore. That to me, and all the other victims, is ludicrous."

Robert Tombari of Groton, who said he was assaulted as a fifth-grader at St. Joseph's School in New London by the late Rev. Kenneth Flint, held a sign that read, "Sexual assault should not have an expiration date. Amend the law. Accountability now."

Tombari said he'd reported the attack on him to the Diocese of Norwich in 2002 and 2016, and that the diocese had "offered to pay for his counseling sessions with a Willimantic psychologist, who he said the diocese told him it 'often used for these types of problems.'"

Tombari explained why he was at Sunday's demonstration.

"I was sexually abused by a Catholic priest while I was attending a Catholic school, I was nine years old," Tombari said. "We hope to bring attention to the subject and precipitate some justice. Justice to me is an admission by the church that they were responsible for allowing, perhaps encouraging, but at least protecting, sexual predators."

Picketers interacted with drivers and people passing by on foot who were curious as to their presence. Neither support nor disdain was readily apparent from those uninvolved in the protest.

In February, the Norwich diocese released a list of 45 diocese-affiliated clergy who have had "allegations of substance" levied against them. Since then, The Day has identified six more priests and brothers not on the list who have also been accused of sexually assaulting minors.

In June, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill into law changing the cutoff age to file suits in sexual assault cases committed against minors from 48 to 51. The bill also established a commission to look into whether the state should extend the statute of limitations past 51 in such cases.

s.spinella@theday.com

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