Bridgeport Diocese still fighting to keep court records closed

No surprise here: The Diocese of Bridgeport will try to go to the top, the U.S. Supreme Court, to prevent the release of court documents related to sex abuse.

The diocese explains its rationale on its website. The diocese asserts:

“From the very beginning of these court cases, the Diocese asserted that it was a violation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment for the courts to second-guess a Church’s selection and evaluation of ministers. The United States Supreme Court has expressly ruled that this is outside the proper role of civil authorities.”

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, says this:

“No one wins here except a handful of self serving, secretive top Catholic officials whose complicity in child sex crimes remains hidden even longer. This is more evidence that there has been virtually no reform in the church hierarchy despite repeated pledges of openness about pedophile priests.

For any victim, witness or whistleblower who has kept quiet, hoping bishops have reformed, this is the reason and now is the time to speak up, protect others, and call police.”

Here’s the AP story in full:

JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN

Associated Press Writer

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A Roman Catholic diocese in Connecticut sought Friday to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep under wraps sex abuse documents that could shed light on how a prominent retired cardinal handled the allegations.

Bridgeport Diocese officials asked the state Supreme Court to continue a stay on releasing the documents while it appeals to the nation’s highest court.

The state court has ruled that more than 12,000 pages of documents from more than 20 lawsuits against priests should be released. Those documents have been sealed from public view since the diocese settled the cases in 2001.

The records could reveal details on how retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan handled the allegations when he was Bridgeport bishop from 1988 to 2000. Egan’s deposition should be in the file, according to an attorney for the newspapers seeking the documents.

In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned after church records were released detailing his role in handling sexual abuse claims.

The Brideport Diocese faced a Monday deadline to appeal before the records were disclosed.

“The diocese believes there are important constitutional issues,” said Ralph Johnson III, attorney for the church. “These are issues important to all citizens.”

Johnson acknowledged that the nation’s highest court takes up only a small percentage of cases it is asked to review.

The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Hartford Courant have been seeking the documents. Jonathan Albano, attorney for some of the papers, said that he would object to continuing the stay and that the case really involves state law that has been resolved.

“It’s somewhat disappointing that the diocese continues to approach the litigation in a way that delays the public’s right to see these documents,” Albano said. “There’s been seven years of litigation.”

An advocacy group for victims of church sexual abuse condemned the latest appeal.

“We’re disappointed that the complicity of top Catholic officials continues to remain hidden,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “This is not what Connecticut Catholics or citizens deserve. It’s one more painful reminder that bishops will do everything possible to protect themselves and their colleagues instead of children.”

Church officials said that the media have reported on the cases extensively and that attorneys and victims had access to the sealed documents. Court officials declined to comment.

A Waterbury Superior Court judge ruled in 2006 that the files should be unsealed, but the diocese appealed. The high court agreed with the trial court that the documents, which include depositions, affidavits and motions, were subject to a presumption of public access.

Church officials say the ruling fails to uphold the privacy and constitutional rights of all parties to lawsuits, especially when cases are sealed, and contends that disclosure of the sealed documents is barred by the religious clauses of the First Amendment.

The state Supreme Court rejected church officials’ claim that the documents were subject to constitutional privileges, including religious privileges under the First Amendment.

Bridgeport sex-abuse files should be released, court rules

All through Cardinal Egan’s tenure in New York, court battles were going on in Connecticut over whether hundreds of pages of depositions from Bridgeport sex-abuse cases should be released.

Today — only weeks after Egan’s retirement — Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that documents from 23 lawsuits against pedophile priests from the Bridgeport Archdiocese should be unsealed and made public.

The documents relate to cases settled in March 2001 involving 23 victims. Egan was the bishop of Bridgeport when most of the lawsuits were filed.

The AP notes: “Connecticut justices considered the Bridgeport case for more than two years, then issued the ruling just a month after the 77-year-old Egan retired.”

The AP also quotes Terence McKiernan, president of Bishop Accountability.org, who says: “I think what you’re seeing is Egan is a prince of the church, and he’s extremely vulnerable here because of how he did his job in Bridgeport…I think the church has gone to great lengths to prevent these documents from seeing the light of day.”

UPDATE: Here is a statement from Joe Zwilling of the Archdiocese of NY:

*****

Today, May 22, 2009, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ordered that documentation concerning the sexual abuse of minors by clergy of the Diocese of Bridgeport in Connecticut during the tenure of The Most Reverend Walter W. Curtis (1961-1988) be made public.  The decision involves documents regarding five priests accused of sexual misconduct prior to the December 1988 appointment of The Most Reverend Edward M. Egan as Bishop of Bridgeport.

There were no allegations of misconduct by these five priests occurring during Bishop Egan’s tenure apart from an accusation that one of them made an improper gesture in the presence of a minor.  The priest is not alleged to have had any physical contact with the minor in question, and two religious women who were present at the time have indicated that they were not aware of any such act.

Of the five priests, one died prior to Bishop Egan’s appointment to the Diocese; and the other four were all sent to the most highly regarded psychiatric institution in New England and the Greater New York area, which had no affiliation whatever with the Church, for treatment and expert evaluation. 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.  At the time, this was the recognized professional manner of handling cases of sexual misconduct with minors.  Indeed, this manner of dealing with such cases was widely accepted in the psychiatric community, and even commended in an editorial of the New York Times.

When, during Bishop Egan’s tenure, new information was received about misconduct prior to his appointment on the part of the four priests mentioned above, two had their authorization to exercise ministry removed indefinitely; one, who had suffered a brain injury, was retired from ministry; and one was permitted to continue in a restricted ministry as an assistant chaplain in a home for the aged, residing in a convent of religious women.

Three other priests, whose cases are not included in the above-referenced court decision, were mentioned in various newspaper articles during Bishop Egan’s tenure as Bishop of Bridgeport as having been accused of sexually abusing minors, again, long before the Bishop’s assignment to the Diocese.  For one the Bishop obtained a decree of laicization from the Vatican within six months.  For the other two, the same procedure was followed as for the four priests mentioned above.  However, the second of these two was sent for treatment and expert evaluation to another nationally prominent psychiatric institution near where he was then residing.

It should be noted that the information provided above regarding Bishop Egan’s precise handling of cases of the sexual abuse of minors by priests was made known through statements of the Archdiocese of New York as far back as 2002, in response to the publications of articles in a Connecticut newspaper concerning selected documents having to do with these cases.

Finally, it needs to be repeated that, apart from the priest accused of making an improper gesture in the presence of a minor, there were no known instances of the sexual abuse of minors by priests of the Diocese of Bridgeport occurring during Bishop Egan’s eleven-year tenure as Bishop of that Diocese, just as there have been no known instances whatever of the sexual abuse of minors by priests of the Archdiocese of New York occurring during Edward Cardinal Egan’s nine-year tenure as Archbishop of New York.

As the church turns: Egan, Dolan say their farewells

Archbishop Dolan celebrated Easter Mass in Milwaukee yesterday and said farewell to the archdiocese:

“I will miss you all very much. I love you very much. I will never forget you. And I will remain ever grateful to you.”

According to a Milwaukee TV station, Dolan spent some time at the end of the Mass “doing what he does best: talking, connecting with people, and of course making them all laugh.”

There’s a slideshow here.

Dolan comes to New York today — and he’ll be all over the news the next few days.

Solemn Vespers tomorrow evening. Mass of Installation Wednesday. You know he’s going to say some memorable stuff.

I’ll be at St. Patrick’s for both events.

I have an article in today’s Journal News/LoHud about the Great Expectations facing the new Archbishop of New York.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Egan covered a lot of ground during Easter Mass at St. Patrick’s. Here’s the AP story (and make sure you catch the last line):

KAREN MATTHEWS
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Cardinal Edward Egan, who will retire as head of New York City’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese on Wednesday, told worshippers at his last Easter Mass that mortal life is fleeting and “we are here for a moment in eternity.”

Egan, who was hospitalized for several days with a stomach ailment and missed Palm Sunday services, appeared robust though at times he leaned heavily on his staff.

A standing-room-only crowed of about 2,700 attended Sunday’s Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

Afterward, the 77-year-old Egan said he felt fine.

“I don’t know what in the world happened to me last Saturday,” he said. “I got this virus or something or other in my stomach and things weren’t operating.”

Egan was released from St. Vincent’s Hospital on Tuesday. While he was there, doctors said he would need to have a pacemaker implanted.

“I’ve got plenty of time to do that,” Egan said Sunday. “The heart is still ticking.”

Egan is leaving after nine years leading the New York Archdiocese’s 2.5 million Catholics in New York City and its northern suburbs. Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan will be installed as his successor on Wednesday.

Egan plans a busy retirement ministering to French-speaking Catholics at the new Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary mission on Manhattan’s East Side.

“I am going to see if we can create a community that supports in a very special way what we call the Francophone community,” he said.

During his homily, Egan spoke of a visit to China 35 years ago when a group of young people living under Mao’s rule asked, “Tell us about God.”

Egan said he told them about the resurrection of Christ, and when a young man asked if he believed it, he responded that “witnesses to the death and resurrection were not such as would invent such a story.”

He said that Americans are fortunate to live in a country where religion can be practiced freely, though “the media are rather unfriendly.”

He said the Easter message is more relevant than ever in the current gloomy economic time.

“In my 77 years I have never known a time when the proclaiming was as needed as it is now,” he said.

Egan often has seemed a distant and aloof figure and has not cultivated a warm relationship with New York’s media.

Asked about successor, he told reporters, “You’re going to like him very much. He’s going to talk to you much more than I do.”

Egan: AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Cardinal Egan ready to go

Cardinal Egan will celebrate Mass for Holy Thursday at 5:30 p.m. today at St. Patrick’s.

His role in Holy Week had been unclear because of two health scares.

The cardinal also plans to participate in tomorrow’s Good Friday service at noon, when he will preach on the Seven Last Words of Christ.

And he expects to celebrate Easter Mass at 10:15 a.m. (when tickets are required).

As you know by now, the cardinal was hospitalized Saturday with stomach pain. Subsequent tests showed that he will need a pacemaker, but the procedure has been temporarily put off.

Egan was released from St. Vincent’s Hospital Tuesday and has been resting up at home.

So he will take part in his last Holy Week as archbishop — yes, officially, he is now “administrator” of the archdiocese — before Archbishop Timothy Dolan takes charge next week.

Cardinal released from hospital

Cardinal Egan was released from St. Vincent’s Hospital at 2:30 p.m., but no decision has been made about whether he will participate in Holy Week services at the cathedral.

According to a release, the cardinal’s stomach pains “had eased sufficiently.” He was allowed to return to his residence behind St. Patrick’s for rest and to recuperate.

No date has been set for the implant of a pacemaker.

Egan was hospitalized Saturday with a stomach ailment. Subsequent tests showed that he would need a pacemaker.

Cardinal’s return to St. Patrick’s still uncertain

It’s still not clear whether Cardinal Egan will make it to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Good Friday or Easter.

The cardinal remains at St. Vincent’s Hospital because of a stomach ailment.

I just heard from Joe Zwilling, Egan’s spokesman, who said that it’s not clear when Egan will be released. The stomach ailment persists and doctors are monitoring things.

After the cardinal was hospitalized Saturday, tests revealed a previously unknown heart condition. Egan will get a pacemaker at some point after he recovers from the stomach ailment and is retired.

Egan is now administrator of the Archdiocese of New York. He will retire next week after Archbishop Timothy Dolan takes “canonical possession” of the archdiocese and becomes the new boss.

Of course, Egan is scheduled to play a significant role in the two-day installation at St. Patrick’s on Tuesday and Wednesday. One has to figure that he will get some hearty applause whenever he makes it back to the cathedral.

Egan recovering, awaiting pacemaker

If you didn’t hear yesterday, Cardinal Egan became ill Saturday and was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital with stomach pains.

Subsequent tests showed that he needs a pacemaker.

Surgery had been scheduled for this morning, but was postponed until the cardinal regains his strength.

It’s not clear whether he will participate in Holy Week services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Egan, who turned 77 last week, is of course scheduled to retire next week when Archbishop Tim Dolan is installed as his successor.

A reserved ‘thank you’ from Cardinal Egan

I’ve long admired Cardinal Egan’s columns in Catholic New York, the newspaper of the archdiocese.

He can be a fine story-teller, it seems to me. I’ve particularly liked several columns about past pilgrimages and various encounters with interesting people of all sorts.

I was once assured that he did indeed write them himself and that he did so at a manual typewriter, with great care.

So I was kind of looking forward to his grand finale — his final column, which appears in the new CNY.

Also, his recent statements to a radio interviewer about the need for the Catholic Church to consider optional celibacy for priests had me thinking that he might go out with a bang.

Nope.

His final column — called “A Thank You” — is a rather muted piece that reveals little.

The cardinal expresses his admiration for the various groups who make up the archdiocese — priests, permanent deacons, religious men and women, the laity, people of other faiths, the parishes.

Then he reiterates a few rather obvious priorities — education, Catholic Charities, health care, the seminary system.

He thanks the offices of the archdiocese for helping him, stating that “Thanks to them, the Archdiocese is free of debt, fiscally secure, properly structured and looking forward into a bright future.”

Then he wraps things up, somewhat abruptly, with graciousness:

*****

There is much more that I could and should say. However, I fear I may have already worn out my welcome in the pages of this highly respected and growing Archdiocesan publication. Permit me to conclude by simply assuring the People of God of the Archdiocese of New York that I will never celebrate a Mass without mentioning them by name to the Lord. To have served as their bishop has been an honor and privilege beyond anything I might have ever imagined.

*****

And that’s all, folks.

Fighting Irish: War of words over Obama’s invite to Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to speak at its upcoming commencement has unleashed a torrent of reactions.

This will only heat up as the May 17 graduation comes closer.

The Catholic bishop whose diocese includes Notre Dame, Bishop John M. D’Arcy, says he will not attend. He writes, in part:

*****

President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.

This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.

*****

Others, including David Gibson and Father Tom Reese, have raised what has to be a very important point: Cardinal Egan hosted Obama at the Al Smith Dinner and was quite willing to be photographed chatting and laughing with the then-presidential candidate, who had the same views on abortion that he does today.

What gives?

Reese writes:

*****

How do I know that Notre Dame is not violating Catholics in Political Life? Because Notre Dame is doing nothing more than what has already been done by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, who taught canon law and worked as a judge in the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota, a church court based in the Vatican.

If Cardinal Egan can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement. Other pro-choice speakers at Al Smith dinners included Al Gore and Tony Blair (a Catholic). What is OK for a cardinal archbishop is certainly OK for a university. Or are bishops exempt from “Catholics in Political Life”?

*****

The gloves have also come off on the question of who gets to decide which public figures can be invited to Catholic colleges.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which insists on orthodoxy at Catholic colleges and regularly slams certain colleges’ choice of speakers, has an online petition going to oppose Obama’s appearance at ND.

Their letter to ND’s president includes this:

*****

This nation has many thousands of accomplished leaders in the Catholic Church, in business, in law, in education, in politics, in medicine, in social services, and in many other fields who would be far more appropriate choices to receive such an honor from the University of Notre Dame.

Instead Notre Dame has chosen prestige over principles, popularity over morality. Whatever may be President Obama’s admirable qualities, this honor comes on the heels of some of the most anti-life actions of any American president, including expanding federal funding for abortions and inviting taxpayer-funded research on stem cells from human embryos.

*****

Joe Feuerherd, publisher of the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, chastises Patrick Reilly, head of the Cardinal Newman Society, as an “academic ayatollah.” He writes:

*****

Here’s what is really going on. Ayatollah Reilly searches for hot button issues on Catholic campuses — anything that has to do with gays gets them excited, as do performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and, of course, pro-choice speakers (few of whom actually even discuss abortion in their presentations) – that will energize their base of donors and activists. Then they highlight these offenses on the Web and through direct mail to generate revenue.

Catching up after a week ‘away’

I’m back from my week-long furlough.

It’s always good to get some down time (but it’s better with a paycheck).

I’ve gone through my 1,088 new emails and am ready, I think, to refocus on religion news.

What did I miss?

Over in Connecticut, a bizarre bill that would have changed the structure of Catholic parishes apparently caused quite a stir before dying a quick death.

The idea was to force Catholic parishes to be financially accountable by forcing pastors to report to boards of directors.

The authors of the bill must have missed those lessons in grade school, high school and college about the Constitution. They might want to take a peek at the document at some point in their political careers, no?

Anyway, thousands of Connecticut Catholics rallied in Hartford to oppose the bill, which was quickly pulled. (ADD: A reader notes that the bill could be revived at some point.)

What else?

Cardinal Egan, in a radio interview, suggested that the Catholic Church might consider opening the priesthood to married men. “I think it has to be looked at,” he said.

Huh?

Apparently, Egan has been influenced by the lack of vocations to the priesthood in New York. Okay, but isn’t this a strange time to be bringing up such a weighty matter that has long been debated by lay Catholics?

Interesting that Egan noted that priests in the Eastern Catholic churches are allowed to be married. I’ve heard this argument made countless times by “progressive” Catholics. Now I can only wonder if Egan, in the waning days of his tenure, will follow up his radio interview with a more elaborate explanation of his position on this much-debated question (check out some of the comments on this David Gibson blog post).

What else?

The Pew Forum finds that church attendance has NOT increased during the recession.

And the recession continues. St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in White Plains has had to evict a food pantry after 27 years. The church is running a deficit and needs to find a tenant who can pay.

I wrote my last FaithBeat column about a ministry at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Yorktown Heights that has been helping job seekers for 20 years. I went to a meeting attended by some 50 people who are out of work.

On a happier note, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day.

Cardinal Egan will get a send-off of sorts, as he waves to parade-goers from the steps of St. Patrick’s for the last time as archbishop.

And the parade will be dedicated to the Sisters of Charity, who are celebrating their 200th anniversary of serving New York’s poor.