‘These things happen in such small numbers’

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.

tjndc5-5b5fab9inu153gbqezi_layoutThe 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:

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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.

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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.

Egan depositions released

After years of lawsuits, the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport today released some 12,000 pages of documents from 23 sex-abuse lawsuits against six priests that were settled in 2001.

The papers include depositions, affidavits and motions and have been expected to shed some light on how the diocese — in particular former Bishop Edward Egan — handled things.

Here’s the AP’s first report:

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tjndc5-5b5it3ivdrrf1y4mezi_layoutHARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Recently retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan says it was not appropriate to discuss allegations of priest sex abuse with people who had claimed to be abused while he was bishop of the Bridgeport diocese.

Egan makes the statements as part of a 1997 deposition that was part of thousands of documents made public on Tuesday, ending a seven-year legal battle.

Amid questioning by attorneys representing abuse victims, Egan says he believes that it would be inappropriate to discuss previous allegations of priest abuse, saying he would not “draw anyone else into this particular discussion.”

The Bridgeport diocese turned over to court officials more than 12,000 pages from 23 lawsuits against six priests settled by the diocese in 2001.

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Here’s the Hartford Courant’s first lead:

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“Claims are claims. Allegations are allegations.”

Those six words uttered by retired Cardinal Edward M. Egan during two depositions neatly sum up his approach to handling the burgeoning priest sexual abuse scandal that he inherited when he took over the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut in the late 1980s.

In 448-pages of depositions that Egan was forced to give as part of 23 lawsuits against seven priests that eventually were settled, the Bishop showed little compassion for the alleged victims and instead argued with attorney’s that only a “remarkably small number” of priests have ever been accused of wrongdoing.

“These things (sexual abuse complaints) happen in such small numbers. It’s marvelous when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have ever been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything,” Egan said.

“Claims are one thing. One does not take every claim against a human being as a proved misdeed. I’m interested in proved misdeeds.”

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And here is a statement from the Archdiocese of New York:

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On May 22, 2009, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ordered that documentation concerning the sexual abuse of minors by clergy of the Diocese of Bridgeport, 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.  It is a topic that has been repeatedly and thoroughly addressed by Cardinal Egan and the Archdiocese of New York as far back as 2002 in response to a series of articles published by the Hartford Courant.

During his tenure as Bishop of Bridgeport (and later as Archbishop of New York), Bishop Egan aggressively investigated and properly dealt with all allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests.  There were no such allegations regarding the five priests mentioned above during Bishop Egan’s Bridgeport years, apart from an accusation that one of them had made an improper gesture in the presence of a minor. The priests is not said to have had any physical contact with the minor, and two nuns who were present at the time have stated that they were unaware of anything inappropriate.

Of the five priests, one died prior to Bishop Egan’s appointment.  The remaining four were all sent for expert evaluation and professional treatment to the most highly regarded psychiatric institution in the New England and Greater New York area, which had no affiliation with the Church. They were ultimately returned to ministry only upon the specific recommendation of the aforementioned institution, along with the advice of experienced clergy and laity.  This was the recognized evaluation–and–treatment protocol for sexual misconduct cases at the time.  It was widely embraced and implemented by the psychiatric community and commended in an editorial of The New York Times.

After their return to ministry, new information was received about misconduct prior to Bishop Egan’s appointment to the Diocese of Bridgeport on the part of the remaining four priests mentioned above.  In response, two had their authority to exercise ministry removed indefinitely.  The third, who had suffered a brain injury, was permanently retired from ministry.  And the fourth, whose misconduct was never firmly established during Bishop Egan’s years in Bridgeport, was permitted to continue in a restricted ministry as an assistant chaplain in a home for the aged, while residing in a convent of religious women.

Three additional priests, who are not mentioned in the case before the Connecticut Supreme Court, were accused during Bishop Egan’s tenure in Bridgeport of engaging in sexual misconduct with minors prior to Bishop Egan’s assignment to the Diocese.  In response, Bishop Egan secured a declaration from the Vatican removing one from the priesthood, while the cases of the remaining two were handled according to the evaluation–and–treatment protocol outlined above. One of the two was evaluated and treated in another highly regarded psychiatric institution located near where he was residing.  It too had no affiliation with the Church.

During Cardinal Egan’s tenure as Archbishop of New York, the Archdiocese had a policy in place, which included an independent review board of professionals and experts, for dealing with credible allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by priests of the Archdiocese.  There was only one such allegation, and it was disproved in an ecclesiastical trial.

Bridgeport diocese loses last round of legal battle over sex-abuse papers

It appears that the Diocese of Bridgeport’s long struggle to keep secret stacks of legal documents related to sex abuse is finally over.

And the diocese has lost.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused today to block the release of 12,000 pages of documents from 23 lawsuits against 6 priests.

The records have been sealed since the cases were settled in 2001, but the Connecticut courts have ruled that they should be released.

The Diocese says:

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We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to extend the stay.

The content of the sealed documents soon to be released has already been extensively reported on.

For more than a decade, the Catholic Church in Bridgeport has addressed the issue of clergy sexual abuse compassionately and comprehensively.

For now, however, the serious threat to the First Amendment rights of all churches and the rightful privacy of all litigants remain in jeopardy because of the decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court. This, indeed, is regrettable.

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Dan Bartley, president of the lay reform group, Voice of the Faithful, says:

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Voice of the Faithful respectfully insists that Bishop Lori accept the Supreme Court decision and stop blocking the right of Catholics in Connecticut to know what happened. Bishop Lori must stop wasting untold hundreds of thousands of parishioners’ dollars to prevent these same parishioners, and the public, from finding out how Lori’s predecessors, including recently retired Cardinal Edward Egan, dealt with cases of sexual abuse of children.

U.S. Supreme Court rules against Bridgeport diocese

After years of legal wrangling, the Diocese of Bridgeport may soon have to release all those documents relating to sex-abuse lawsuits.

From the AP:

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday against a Roman Catholic diocese in Connecticut, saying that thousands of documents generated by lawsuits against six priests for alleged sexual abuse cannot remain sealed.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Tuesday denied the Bridgeport diocese’s request to continue a stay on the release of the papers until the full court decides whether to review the case.

Ralph Johnson III, a lawyer for the diocese, said church officials were considering whether to ask all nine justices to rule on the request.

Jonathan Albano, attorney for three newspapers who requested the documents, said the ruling compels the diocese to release the documents, but he acknowledged the church could ask the full court to reconsider Ginsberg’s decision.

“At the end of the day, the diocese will be able to say they were heard before every court that was available to them,” Albano said.

Albano represents The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post. The three papers along with the Hartford Courant have asked to see the documents.

A Waterbury Superior Court said in 2006 that the documents were subject to a presumption of public access. And the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision, ruling that more than 12,000 pages from 23 lawsuits against the six priests should be unsealed.

The Connecticut high court also rejected the claim by church officials that the documents were subject to constitutional privileges, including religious privileges under the First Amendment.

The records have been under seal since the diocese settled the cases in 2001. They could provide details on how retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan handled the allegations when he was bishop in Bridgeport from 1988 to 2000.

The documents include depositions, affidavits and motions.

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.