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3rd Suit Filed Against Pastor

Jun 20, 2002 | The Hartford Courant A third former student at St. Augustine School in Hartford has accused the Rev. Daniel F. McSheffery of sexual abuse, prompting the first public response from the Hartford Archdiocese to the mounting allegations against the 72-year-old cleric.

The former student, a Connecticut resident now in his early 40s, attended the school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while McSheffery was director. The former student's allegations are contained in a sealed lawsuit filed Friday in Superior Court in Hartford.

His lawyer, EliotGersten of Hartford, said his client suffered abuses similar to those described by two other former St. Augustine students in lawsuits filed June 4. Those two men said McSheffery sexually molested them repeatedly in various places in the school over a period of several years. They said the abuse began when they were 9 or 10 years old.

McSheffery, the pastor of St. Augustine Church in North Branford for the past 16 years, was placed on leave in May, after another former student of the Hartford parochial school wrote a letter to New Haven prosecutors saying he'd been sexually molested by McSheffery around 1972. The writer said that he feared McSheffery had abused other boys at St. Augustine.

Gersten said that before filing the lawsuit, his client had reported the allegations to church officials - but Gersten wouldn't say when, or to whom.

The lawsuit "is not the first notice of his complaint," Gersten said.

"We are deeply troubled by the allegations set forth in these lawsuits," the Rev. John P. Gatzak, spokesman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday.

"As stated in the charter for the protection of children and young people, adopted last week by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the archdiocese pledges that we will work toward healing and reconciliation for those sexually abused by clerics.

"We commit ourselves to do all we can to heal the trauma the victims and their families have suffered."

Gatzak stressed that he wasn't saying these particular allegations had merit, and added that the archdiocese "would take every step possible to restore Father McSheffery's good name" if he is exonerated in civil court.

"I'd just like to remind the public of the presumption of innocence in these days of hysteria," said McSheffery's lawyer, Hugh F. Keefe of New Haven. Keefe said he would file an answer to the lawsuits after meeting with McSheffery in the next few days.

The names of the three former students are sealed from the public by court order. They are being referred to, for the time being, as John Doe, John Roe and Thomas Roe. They are known to the defendants in the case, which include McSheffery, the archdiocese, St. Augustine School of Hartford and St. Augustine Church of Hartford.

Gersten and lawyer Hubert Santos of Hartford, who represents the other two former students, are seeking to attach the beachfront home McSheffery owns in Old Saybrook, as security in the event of a judgment against the priest. Keefe said he is not opposing the attachments.

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