Newly Released Documents Show Bishop Egan’s Chilling Disconnect

Source: Catholic_Kids.com

12,000 pages documenting the 2002 investigations into sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic diocese of Bridgeport CT were released last week, after the diocese lost a seven-year legal battle to keep them sealed. The documents include memos, administrative records, and testimony surrounding twenty-three lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by seven of the diocese’s priests. 448 of these pages transcribe the testimony of the diocese’s bishop at the time – Edward Egan.

Egan admitted to shielding accused priests, often relocating, and, at times, promoting them. The lawsuits were settled in 2002 and Egan was subsequently promoted to cardinal and then archbishop of New York.

In 2002, news of the lawsuits broke and, in the wake of the ensuing scandal, then New York Cardinal Egan released a  letter to his current parishioners expressing regret.

”Over the past 15 years, in both Bridgeport and New York, I consistently sought and acted upon the best independent advice available to me from medical experts and behavioral scientists. ‘It is clear today that we have a much better understanding of this problem […] If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.”

Victims, dubious of his sincerity, regarded the letter as an empty PR maneuver. Paul Mones, attorney for several victims, was especially unimpressed, (as quoted in the New York Times), ”It is getting off easy to say the behavior of the church was a mistake. It was not a negligent, unthinking action; it was a conscious plan to prevent scandal and to protect the interests of the church.” [Em. mine]

In another statement released in 2002  Egan vows, “I will do everything in my power to ensure the safety and security of each child.” Yet, there is no sign Egan has done anything at all to bring truth to light, punishment to criminals, and safety to potential future victims. Justice to past victims seems not even on his radar.

And then there is Egan’s testimony, which was never supposed to come to light, and in which he unflinchingly defends his decision to repeatedly shield and relocate accused priests, neglect to alert authorities, and his disbelieve accusations as a matter of course.

Sound bites include:

Incidentally, these things don’t happen, and we are talking about ifs.”

And when challenged on this,

“These things happen in such small numbers.”

And when questioned about Rev. Raymond Pcolka, who was accused by 12 former parishioners of abuses including forced oral and anal sex and beatings,

“I am not aware of those things. I am aware of the claims of those things, the allegations of those things. I am aware that there are a number of people who know one another, some are related to one another, have the same lawyers and so forth.” [Em. mine]

He seems to regard prevalence of sexual abuse by clergy as minimal at best. The Times article summarizes:

“Bishop Egan, the fact that 19 individuals have come forward and made claims,” [attorney for plantiff] asked about Father Pcolka’s case, “you don’t consider that to be a significant number of individuals?”

The bishop waited while his lawyer quibbled over the number 19, then answered that considering there were 360,911 registered Catholics in the diocese, “I do not consider that a significant segment or factor.”

“Would you agree with me, Bishop Egan,” the lawyer pressed, “that if one person, one individual, has been affected by the sexual abuse of a clergy member, when that person was a child, that that’s far too much to accept in any diocese?”

“It would not be a significant portion of the diocese,” he replied.

He goes further to self-congratulate the diocese for such low rates of abuse

“It’s marvelous, when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have even been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything.” [Em mine]

How can you prove something that is never investigated? Such deeply twisted logic, denial, and chilling disconnect from reality appears to be shared by Egan’s Bridgeport predecessor, Bishop Curtis, who admitted to keeping, then destroying records on accused priests and who asserted his belief that pedophilia isn’t a a disease, but a “more incidental” condition.

So how does Egan reconcile his promise that “Should any priest sexually abuse a child, he will be removed from pastoral ministry,” with his continuing penchant for uniformly turning a cold ear to the pleas of victims and their families and allowing such soul-crushing abuses to continue?

Copious amounts of skewed logic and denial.

The Washington Post did a piece on the videotaped testimony from a 1997 lawsuit against the diocese when a former parishioner,  Frank Martinelli,  testified that Fr. Laurence Brett had sexually assaulted him three times as a teenager in 1962 and 1963, including biting him during oral sex. Brett was transferred.  In his testimony, Egan seeks to absolve himself (Bishop of the CT diocese at the time) by claiming – incredulously – that under the strict hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church

“…diocesan priests were “self-employed” and not the bishop’s responsibility”

In further testimony

Martinelli’s attorney asked Egan if he would suspend any priest who was discovered to have sexually assaulted a minor.

“I would have to know the complete circumstances,” Egan replied.

The lawyer then laid out a hypothetical case with a fact pattern identical to the Martinelli case. (By this time, Egan was aware of church files showing that Brett had admitted assaulting Martinelli.)

What if this priest was a teacher, the lawyer asked, and sexually assaulted a student and bit the student’s penis?

“That would be sufficient cause [for suspension], I’m sure, in many bishops’ minds,” Egan responded.

Would it be sufficient cause in your mind?

“I would have to know all of the details,” Egan replied.

Egan admits that he met with Brett in 1990, knowing that Brett had admitted to sexual abuses. In a memo immediately after that meeting he wrote that Brett “made a good impression on me, he spoke with grace,” and “I’ll be inclined to write [him] a letter encouraging him to go on with his work.”

Eventually the diocese was flooded with so many accusations involving Brett that Egan was forced to remove him from duty. It is not clear how many children were abused in the interim.

On an encouraging note, although pervasive and far-reaching, this inexcusable minimalization  and denial isn’t quite institution-wide. An op-Ed in the Times last week contrasts Egan’s response with that of Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, following the release of a recent report detailing years of abuse and cover-ups in Ireland:

“The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime in canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the report is that while church leaders — bishops and religious superiors — failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what was involved.”

Martin speaks to what Egan appears to avoid all thought of – the children, the victims, the now-adults who try to refit the pieces of lives that have been shattered.


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