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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    Norwich Diocese: 43 priests accused of child sex abuse

    Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, bishop of the Diocese of Norwich, on Oct. 14, 2017, at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick in Norwich. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Diocese of Norwich Bishop Michael Cote announced Saturday that 43 priests who have served in the diocese have had "allegations of substance" made against them regarding sexual abuse of minors.

    Cote said the list of priests accused since the establishment of the diocese in 1953 will be posted on its website, norwichdiocese.org, at 2 p.m. Sunday and published this month it its newspaper, The Four County Catholic.

    Cote defined an "allegation of substance" as one in which the priest has pleaded guilty or no contest in criminal court of any incident of sexual misconduct; the allegation has been investigated and "been determined to be reasonable, plausible, probable and bearing the semblance of the truth," is corroborated with other evidence or another source and/or has been acknowledged or admitted to by the accused priest.

    Cote's announcement came in a letter that was included in church bulletins distributed at Saturday afternoon's Masses.

    In addition, the diocese also announced that since July 1, 1977, it has paid out almost $7.7 million in settlements to victims in connection with nine cases. There are 23 more cases pending against the diocese. Other victims have been unable to file suits because the statute of limitations has expired.

    Cote said almost $4.9 million was paid by its insurance company, $1 million came from the diocesan general fund and almost $1.8 million in payments were made by entities such as religious orders or other dioceses the priests belonged to, as well as from the accused priests themselves.

    He added no donor restricted funds, bequests or contributions designated for a special purpose, such as the Annual Catholic Appeal, were used to pay settlements.

    The list of accused priests include 22 who were members of the Diocese of Norwich, seven who were members of other religious orders, two who were from another diocese but were working in the Diocese of Norwich and 12 who served in or resided in the diocese but had allegations brought forward from outside it.

    Cote also stated there is currently no priest or deacon in active ministry in the diocese who is the subject of an allegation of substance regarding the sexual abuse of a minor.

    "I am grievously sorry for the horrific sins and crimes made against the most vulnerable among us who have suffered sexual abuse and misconduct. I offer my deepest and heartfelt apology on behalf of the Church to victims of child abuse and their families suffering painful life-long consequences," Cote wrote in his letter. "I know that the release of these names will cause pain for some victims, families of the accused, friends and parishioners. It is my hope and prayer that this effort to let the light shine on this dark chapter in the life of the Church will bring some measure of peace, healing and acknowledgement to those who have been directly harmed and to all members of our faith community."

    Cote wrote the diocese "is committed to protecting children and young people so that the tragedy of sexual abuse does not occur."

    He said the diocese, "since the enactment of its first Sexual Misconduct Policy in 1990 and the implementation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, continues to address the allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy (bishops, priests and deacons) and has experienced a significant reduction of reported allegations of abuse."

    "But one act of abuse is too many and we must always remain vigilant in protecting children and young people," he said.

    He wrote that the list is based on a review of all clergy records by a team of volunteer lay people with law enforcement and canonical experience. He added the list of names will be updated as any new information becomes available.

    Cote wrote the list includes the names of priests who are dead, have been dismissed from the clerical state and those who have been removed from ministry. The latter status allows an accused priest to remain a priest and be financially supported by the church but not perform duties, such as publicly saying Mass.

    Cote wrote that "all allegations found to have substance have been addressed when reported."

    How they were addressed is not clear.

    In the case of former Bishop Daniel Reilly, who served from 1975 to '94, a review of court records, lawsuits, depositions of Reilly and statements from alleged victims show that he transferred priests accused of sexual assault to new parishes, where they offended again. Former Bishop Daniel Hart, who served from 1995 to 2003 and is now deceased, also was named in numerous lawsuits in Boston and Norwich, with some victims and families saying they complained directly to him about sexual abuse by priests and he then transferred those priests to other parishes.

    In 2002, Hart admitted that he waited a month to report an allegation to the state Department of Children and Families that a former Putnam man told him he was sexually assaulted by two priests there in the 1960s.

    State law mandates that clergy members report incidents of the sexual abuse of children within 24 hours of receiving an allegation. Police and the state's attorney's office never prosecuted Hart, even though his admission that he violated the law was reported in The Day and they had 11 months to bring charges before the one-year statute of limitations expired.

    Cote's letter on Saturday did not address the actions of Reilly and Hart.

    Because the list will only include allegations of substance involving the sexual abuse of minors, it is not expected to include the Rev. Gregory Mullaney, the current pastor at St. Agnes Church in Niantic.

    Last fall, Deacon Mark King, who served with Mullaney at Sacred Heart Church in Groton, told The Day that in 2006, Mullaney tried to sexually assault him on a trip to Rome. King gave a sworn statement to the diocese about the incidents within hours upon returning home. This fall, Mullaney acknowledged the incidents occurred but the diocese said he remains a priest in good standing.

    Since 1953, Cote's letter also pointed out, 1,422 priests and 114 deacons have served in the diocese, while 43 priests, or 2.98 percent of all clergy affiliated with the diocese, have been the subject of allegations of substance.

    Three weeks ago, the Archdiocese of Hartford reported that 48 of its priests, six of whom had served in the Norwich Diocese, had been credibly accused of sexually assaulting minors.


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