VIDEO: Priest abuse victim picketing Catholic churches

Mystic — Tim McGuire of New London, who alleges that a Noank priest sexually assaulted him when he was an 8-year-old altar boy in the 1960s, has begun protesting in front of Catholic churches in the Diocese of Norwich.

On Wednesday morning, clad in shorts, T-shirt, flip-flops, sunglasses and a baseball cap, a sweating McGuire walked back and forth along a sunbaked sidewalk in front of St. Patrick Church in downtown Mystic for three hours.

Hundreds and hundreds of people, some of whom were stuck in traffic waiting for the drawbridge to close or arriving for 12:05 p.m. Mass, saw his signs. Some gave him a thumbs-up, a few pulled over to express support and a few yelled criticisms, accusing him of just wanting a big payout.

Most just slowed down and read his handmade signs, which read: "WE ARE NOT SECRET FILES," "WHEN YOU PRAY FOR VICTIMS. BISHOP COTE ABUSES THEM. ASK ME. I'M ONE." and "NORWICH DIOCESE. HUNDREDS OF MOLESTATIONS. DOZENS OF VICTIMS. NO CONVICTIONS. PRETTY SLICK."

"THERE ARE 37 OF US TODAY AND COUNTING," read another, referring to the number of people who have publicly alleged they were abused by diocesan priests. Accused priests were not reported to authorities by former diocesan Bishop Daniel Reilly and often were transferred to new parishes, where they sometimes assaulted more children.

"I'm disgusted not so much by their actions but by their inaction," McGuire said.

Current Bishop Michael Cote has stressed that the diocese has taken numerous steps to prevent abuse and report any incidents that it becomes aware of but has said he has no authority to report the inaction of Reilly to the pope.

A diocesan spokesman did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

"I'm out here to start a conversation. If I'm misinformed, let's talk," McGuire said Wednesday.

McGuire, who considers himself a Catholic with no church to go to, says he is especially stung when people, such as two St. Patrick parishioners who confronted him on Wednesday, accuse him of just wanting a big settlement.

One elderly woman walking into Mass just before noon Wednesday yelled out to McGuire, "What are you doing that for? All you want is money!"

"I'll donate any money I receive to charity," McGuire responded.

"You just cause stress and trouble. You don't bring peace," the woman shouted back.

"I bring reality, ma'am," McGuire told her.

A few moments later, McGuire said, "That's what hurts the most. When someone from your own church accuses you of only wanting money. I'm the person who was abused by a priest."

Earlier, as he looked over the hedges at the church's immaculately tended gardens, he said, "Look at that. They take better care of the flowers than the victims of child abuse."

Leading the fight

Since speaking publicly about his abuse last August and the effect it has had on his life, the 60-year-old McGuire has taken an increasingly statewide role in trying to assist alleged victims of priest abuse who are barred from filing civil lawsuits against the church because they are older than 48. The legislature recently increased the cutoff age to 51 for filing such cases.

He gave tearful testimony before the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee this spring, urging lawmakers to abolish the statute of limitations because many victims like him do not discuss what occurred until later in life. When he first sought out a lawyer more than a decade ago, he learned he had missed the filing deadline by three weeks. He now is seeking to get appointed to a new legislative committee that will make recommendations on possibly changing the statute of limitations. The church has opposed such measures, as it would expose dioceses to many new lawsuits and many millions of dollars in potential payouts.

McGuire also has become active with the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. There he speaks with other victims, one of whom he said he had to get help for last week after the man again was threatening to commit suicide.

McGuire began his protests last weekend at St. Mary Star of the Sea church in New London, where he held signs reading "BISHOP COTE HARBORS EVIL" and "CHILD ABUSE LIVES HERE." Like at St. Patrick, he said he was greeted with a mix of support and criticism.

"It was 50 years ago, what do you want? You want money," he said one parishioner told him. Another told him to leave, and police were called.

"I told him this is my church," McGuire said, adding he already had checked with police about how he needed to conduct himself.

He said a young seminarian at the church spoke with him for about an hour both days and encouraged him to return to the church and be part of the congregation.

"The church is dirty. You clean it up and I'll come back," McGuire said he told him.

The decision to picket

Asked why he has decided to picket churches in the diocese, McGuire answered, "What left? I'm not waiting for the pope to do something. The bishops have made moves away from (the victims). The church was engaged in pedophilia. We have laws against that but the church found their way around it." 

Another reason he said is that Catholics hold dear the sanctity of their church. "Their message is always, 'No one would dare (protest here),'" he said.

After Mass ended Wednesday afternoon, the Rev. Kevin Reilly, the pastor of St. Patrick, walked out to the sidewalk, shook McGuire's hand and spent more than 20 minutes listening to McGuire talk about the effect the abuse has had on his life, family and others, his issues with how the church has dealt with it and a prayer the church has for the issue.

"What can I do for you?" Reilly asked.

"You're doing it," McGuire told him and also asked that he talk to Cote about helping him and other victims.

When McGuire told Reilly that he still considers himself a Catholic but can't return to the church, Reilly told him the worst part of what happened is that it separates people from their faith.

McGuire alleges he repeatedly was sexually assaulted as an 8-year-old altar boy by the late Rev. James Curry at St. Joseph's Church in Noank.

Curry later was accused of raping an 11-year-old girl at St. Mary's Church in Groton in 1980 and 1981. The girl's mother, who was Curry's housekeeper, filed a criminal complaint, but prosecutors did not file charges against him. The diocese settled a civil case filed by the girl and her mother.

Another lawsuit accused Curry of raping a girl at St. Mary's for eight years beginning in 1961, when she was 8. The girl said that after the hundreds of assaults, Curry made her ask for forgiveness for tempting him. He also would instruct her to recite the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary for penance and warned her that she and her mother would be drummed out of the church and burn in hell for eternity if she told anyone of the abuse.

Curry died in 1986. At his funeral Mass, Bishop Reilly told mourners that "Certainly, the Lord placed heavy crosses on (Curry's) shoulders in recent years."

"Father Curry faced his struggles with an ever growing love of the Lord. ... We pray now that he will have eternal peace and light that he so richly deserves," Reilly told attendees.

Curry was included on a list released in February by the diocese that showed the names of 45 clergy affiliated with the diocese who have "allegations of substance" lodged against them involving the sexual assault of minors. The Day also has identified six priests and brothers accused of sexual assault of minors who are not on the list.

Figures released by the diocese and compiled by The Day, after speaking with attorneys and examining lawsuits, show the diocese has paid out at least $9.5 million to various victims.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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