So what have we learned from the 1997 and 1999 depositions of then-Bishop Edward Egan relating to sex abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport?
It’s hard to say — and probably in the eye of the beholder.
Since I’m no longer covering religion full-time, I have not had to pour through the thousands of page of court documents released Tuesday. But I know quite a bit about the cases in question and have read most of the significant media reports on the documents, including today’s well-written piece by Paul Vitello in the NYTimes.
It does not appear that a smoking gun has been uncovered, as in, let’s say, new details about how a priest was protected or how the diocese tried to cover up the truth.
The depositions of Egan, in particular, primarily show, it seems, that Egan did not want to admit that the sexual abuse of minors by priests was a serious problem, in Bridgeport or the larger church. He only grudgingly expressed any sympathy for victims of abuse and repeatedly insisted that most allegations were only that — allegations.
Vitello’s story includes this:
Even then, Bishop Egan played down the importance of the action he had taken to stem a problem which, to him, was not a widespread one. At one point, when the deposition resumed in 1999, he stopped in his description of church policies to challenge the notion that any abuse had actually occurred.
“Incidentally,” he said, “these things don’t happen, and we are talking about ifs.”
“Forgive me, Father — Bishop,” replied one lawyer, Cindy Robinson. “But these things do happen because that’s the reason why we’re seated here today.”
She had been asking about two priests with long records of abuse allegations, whom Bishop Egan had sought to remove from the priesthood, though both continued working.
“These things happen in such small numbers,” the bishop said.
This portrayal is consistent with how Egan carried himself during his tenure as archbishop of New York — defensive, combative, revealing little.
It would be much bigger news, it seems to me, if the depositions showed Egan to be anguished over sex abuse, even in small numbers.
According to the Times story, he had to be pressed to even admit that the abuse of one person is important: “However, were even one person to have been abused sexually, while that one person could not numerically be categorized as a significant portion, the activity would be significant and more.”
Significant and more.