By Catholic News Service
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CNS) — Bridgeport diocesan officials said they were reviewing their options after a May 22 ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court to make public sealed documents from settled sexual abuse lawsuits filed against priests in the Bridgeport Diocese.
The 4-1 ruling involves the release of documents from 23 lawsuits against six priests settled in 2001. In 2006, a Superior Court ruled that the files should be released but the diocese appealed the decision.
The Supreme Court’s decision to release the files would not take effect until it was published in the Connecticut Law Journal June 2.
According to a May 22 statement from the Bridgeport Diocese, church officials were “deeply disappointed” in the ruling.
The battle over the sealed documents began in 2002 when The New York Times filed suit to obtain the documents that it said were a key par of the church’s record of handling charges of clergy sex abuse. Three other newspapers joined in the suit: The Hartford Courant, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.
About a dozen people, including members of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, delivered a letter to Bridgeport Bishop William E. Lori May 26 urging the diocese not to appeal the release of the more than 12,600 pages of documents.
SNAP director David Clohessy personally handed the letter to a diocesan official at the Catholic Center, where the diocesan offices are located. The letter urged Bishop Lori to let the court ruling stand to allow parishioners and the public “the chance to learn the truth about the crimes that were committed and concealed.”
Although the group did not meet with Bishop Lori, they were handed a statement by Joseph McAleer, a spokesman for the diocese, which outlined the work the diocese has done to assist abuse victims and prevent abuse.
“We appreciate that emotions run high on this topic,” the statement said. It also added that the diocese’s objection to the recent court decision “concerns judicial fairness and the fundamental right of any individual or organization to fair adjudication in any legal proceeding.”
“In a state where the Catholic Church has had to vigorously fight for its constitutional rights, we are going to continue to examine any and all legal options,” the statement added.
It also faulted the ruling for ignoring the state’s statute of limitations on the unsealing of court documents.
“Sadly, the history of this case has been about access by the secular media to internal church documents of cases more than 30 years ago to suggest, unfairly, that nothing has changed,” the statement said.
“This is despite the extraordinary measures the Catholic Church has undertaken over the past several years to treat victims with great compassion and dignity, and to put in safeguards and educational programs to ensure that such a tragedy will not happen again.”
The New York Archdiocese also released a statement about the Connecticut court ruling since Cardinal Edward M. Egan, retired archbishop of New York, was bishop of Bridgeport from 1998-2000.
A May 22 statement by Joseph Zwilling, director of communications, said the sealed documents involved five priests who were accused of sexual misconduct prior to then-Bishop Egan’s appointment to Bridgeport. One of the priests died before the bishop was appointed to the diocese and the other four were sent to a top psychiatric institution for treatment and expert evaluation, the statement said.
“They were returned to ministry only upon the written recommendation of the aforementioned institution along with the advice of experienced members of both clergy and laity,” the statement said. “At the time, this was the recognized professional manner of handling cases of sexual misconduct with minors.”
When new information was received about the sexual misconduct of four of the priests, two were removed from ministry, one retired and another priest was permitted to continue in a restricted ministry in a home for the aged, according to the statement.