Bishop says Niantic priest accused of attempted sex assault remains 'in good standing'

The Most Rev. Michael Cote, Bishop of Norwich, has told parishioners of St. Agnes Church in Niantic that their pastor, the Rev. Gregory Mullaney, accused last month of attempting to sexually assault a deacon and other inappropriate sexual conduct during a trip to Rome in 2006, remains "a priest in good standing."

Mark King, a former deacon at Sacred Heart Church in Groton who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., alleged in a Dec. 1 article in The Day that Mullaney, then the Sacred Heart pastor, repeatedly propositioned him for sex while on the trip and tried to sexually assault him in the street after he fled from a restaurant where the two had been dining.

In addition, King alleged in a sworn statement he made to diocesan officials the day after he returned from the trip that 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 a wine-fueled lunch. 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 other alleged comments in the statement are too graphic for publication.

King was instructed by the diocese not to say anything about what had happened. Mullaney was removed from Sacred Heart and since has been assigned to at least three other parishes, including St. Agnes and St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Connecticut.

King said he decided to speak out because 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 to 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.

The diocese has refused to release a list of Mullaney’s parish assignments or to say if there have been other complaints about him, and as late as Tuesday afternoon refused to discuss his status as a priest in the diocese.

But in the most recent St. Agnes Church bulletin, Cote briefly addressed the church’s parishioners as well as those of its sister parish, St. Matthias of East Lyme, saying, “As father Mullaney has stated to you over the past two weeks, the incident involving himself and Deacon Mark King was addressed swiftly twelve years ago. He has accepted responsibility for his actions and he has resolved any underlying issues related to this matter to my satisfaction. He is a priest in good standing.”

The church bulletin also included a statement from Mullaney. In his statement, Mullaney, who had discussed the incident with parishioners from the pulpit after the Dec. 1 article was published, said that he hoped he could “address this article, not in any way to excuse, defend or minimize the gravity of my words and actions towards Deacon Mark King, but rather to provide a little more context.”

He wrote that before the 2006 trip, he had experienced two significant losses in his life as both his father and his best friend had died within a matter of months.

He called the two men his “anchors, guides and role model” and “without them I became lost and adrift.”

Mullaney wrote that he then entered a time he could best describe as “a freefall.”

“I lacked the self-awareness to understand what was happening to me," he wrote. "When my trip to Rome with Deacon King took place in 2006, and alcohol was factored into the equation, what had been a precarious situation soon deteriorated into conduct unbecoming a Christian, much less a priest.”

Mullaney wrote that upon his return from the trip, Cote removed him as pastor of Sacred Heart and sent him to undergo an in-depth evaluation by a team of psychologists and psychiatrists who recommended therapy. He wrote that he saw a therapist every week for a year and a half until the therapist concluded that he “had worked through and resolved the issues that had caused my transgressions.”

“Upon my therapist’s recommendation, Bishop Cote gradually, over the course of several years, reintegrated me into pastoral ministry,” Mullaney wrote.

“I would like to sincerely apologize to each and every member of St. Agnes and Matthias parishes that this episode from a broken time in my life has cast such a long and painful shadow into the midst of two beautiful communities of faith, especially so close to Christmas," he wrote. "Not a day goes by that I do not bitterly regret my conduct all those years ago.”

Mullaney also wrote that he would like to sincerely apologize to King and his family for the effect his behavior has had on them.

King said Tuesday that neither Mullaney nor Cote has reached out to him since the article was published or at any other time in the 12 years since the incident.

King said the only time Mullaney expressed remorse was in the baggage claim area at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after their plane landed from Rome when Mullaney said, “Marco, I’m so sorry.”

“I’ll pray for you,” King said he told him.

In his message to parishioners, Mullaney asked them for their forgiveness and understanding. He said he remains open to listening to how they have been impacted by the controversy and encouraged them to contact Cote to make their thoughts known as well as their wishes regarding the future leadership of the two parishes.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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

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