Norwich diocese reveals it is investigating the sexual abuse of children by its priests
The Diocese of Norwich revealed to the region’s Catholics on Sunday that it has spent the past 13 months investigating the extent of abuse of children by priests assigned to the diocese dating back to 1953.
In a letter to parishioners across the diocese, Bishop of Norwich Michael Cote announced that retired state Superior Court Judge Michael E. Riley is leading the “Clerical Sexual Abuse Accountability Investigation” for the diocese. Riley is a member of the Internal Investigations and Alternative Dispute Resolution practice at Pullman & Comley, a Connecticut-based legal firm.
The diocese said Riley and his team began their investigation in October 2019 and have undertaken a “comprehensive analysis and review of claims of clerical sexual abuse of minors, the Diocese’s knowledge of such abuse and its response to allegations and information presented to it concerning the alleged clergy abuse.”
The diocese, which did not say when the investigation would be complete, said Riley has been given “complete and unrestricted access to all Diocesan files, records, and archives dating from the establishment of the Diocese in 1953 to the present along with the opportunity to interview Diocesan clergy and administrators with information relevant to the investigation.”
The diocese said Riley is also being assisted by a team of attorneys and paralegals including retired state Superior Court Judge Robert L. Holzberg, who served as the lead investigator for a similar investigation conducted by the Diocese of Bridgeport.
The diocese did not say whether Riley is interviewing the many men and women who say they were sexually assaulted by diocesan priests, attorneys who have represented some of them in civil cases or retired Bishop of Norwich Daniel Reilly, who documents show transferred priests who had complaints made against them for sexually assaulting children and teens to other parishes. During Reilly’s tenure, state law instead required him to report such allegations to police or the state Department of Children and Families.
Diocesan spokesman Wayne Gignac said Sunday night that Riley and his team are committed to a “thorough, impartial and comprehensive process.”
The diocese said the first phase of the investigation has entailed the close review by Judge Riley and his team of all Diocesan files, records and archives dating back to 1953, as well as interviews with clergy and administrators. Gignac said they are continuing to investigate leads generated from the review of records and interviews with clergy and administrators. He said investigators are now inviting all those who may have information related to clergy abuse to contact them on a confidential hotline. He said the completion of the investigation will depend on the number of leads created by the hotline.
As for whether the investigators have interviewed former Bishop Reilly, Gignac said that “because it is an ongoing investigation, specific details can not be released.”
It is also unclear whether investigators will try to contact victims for interviews. Many of them have spoken publicly to The Day or are listed in lawsuits and diocesan records.
The diocese said the results of the investigation will be presented in a public report that will address the sexual abuse of minors by diocesan clergy as well as the response of Church leadership to that abuse. The report will also contain any “relevant recommendations to the Bishop resulting from the review.”
“It is in a spirit of accountability and transparency that I have invited Judge Riley and the team from Pullman & Comley to conduct this investigation,” Bishop Cote said in the announcement. “I look forward to their report and I believe that their investigation will help to clarify the thorough work done last year in compiling and publishing the list of clergy with substantive allegations involving sexual abuse of a minor.”
“We will continue our longstanding commitment to ensure a safe environment in our churches, schools, and other institutions in protecting our children, young people, and vulnerable adults from harm,” Cote added.
The diocese said anyone who has information that can assist Riley in the investigation can make a report by calling toll-free: 844-311-2111 (English) or 800-216-1288 (Spanish), or by visiting www.lighthouse-services.com/norwichdiocese. The diocese said the hotlines and website are operated by Lighthouse, a provider of secure, confidential third-party hotlines for organizations conducting investigations. The diocese said all communications with Riley and his team will be confidential.
In February 2019, the diocese released the names of 43 priests who have served in the diocese since its founding in 1953 and have had “allegations of substance” made against them regarding the sexual abuse of minors.
The list, though, did not include what parishes the priests served at, what they were accused of doing and whether the diocese reported them to police or the state Department of Children and Families, which clergy have been required to do under the state’s mandatory reporter law since 1971. It also does not include priests accused of sexually assaulting adults.
Prior to the release of the list, The Day had identified 28 priests and brothers affiliated with the Diocese of Norwich who have been accused of sexually assaulting children and adults, according to lawsuits, depositions, sworn statements and statements from alleged victims. Six of these priests were not on the list released by the diocese.
According to attorneys of some victims and reporting by The Day, the diocese has paid out at least $9.5 million to victims. Many others are prohibited from filing lawsuits because of a statute of limitations that requires victims to file lawsuits by age 51. Experts have testified before the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee that many victims do not come forward until much later in life, often not until their 50s or 60s. Bills that would eliminate the statute of limitations have so far been unsuccessful.
Reilly and the diocese currently faces 33 lawsuits related to sexual abuse of minors by clergy assigned to the diocese. Almost all of these involve the former Academy at Mount Saint John in Deep River, where the late Christian Brother K. Paul McGlade is alleged to have fondled, sodomized and raped large numbers of boys after the diocese brought him to Connecticut from Australia and assigned him to the school.