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Action On Priest Abuse Claims Queried

Priest removed months after initial complaint, but only days after a 2nd complaint

Apr 17, 2003 | Albany Times Union More than nine months ago, a 47-year-old man contacted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany without an attorney and accused a prominent priest of sexually abusing him as a child.

Last month, a second alleged victim this one with an attorney came to the diocese with a second complaint. Within days, the Rev. John Connolly was removed from active ministry.

"We were surprised they moved so quickly. We knew nothing about the other complaint," said Albany attorney Kenneth Munnelly, who represents a Florida man who lodged the second complaint against Connolly in March.

Munnelly's account of how the diocese handled his client's complaint stands in sharp contrast to a previous account provided by the first alleged victim. The comparison raises questions about how the diocese and its Sexual Misconduct Panel define "credible allegations" that warrant a priest's removal.

Connolly was one of two priests removed from ministry last week after church officials determined that two allegations against Connolly were credible. Connolly has denied the allegations, but the diocesan misconduct panel recommended that Bishop Howard Hubbard suspend the priest pending further investigations.

The Florida man said Connolly abused him as a high school student when the priest was principal at Albany's Cardinal McCloskey High School in the mid-1970s, Munnelly said.

The priest's first accuser said Connolly forced him to have sex when he was a 17-year-old high school senior and Connolly was principal at St. Peter's Academy in Saratoga Springs in the early 1970s.

New policies on sexual abuse adopted in Dallas last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops call for "prompt and objective" investigations of all complaints and require the removal of any priest believed to have sexually abused one child.

The diocese was eager to talk to the Florida man after learning about his allegation and arranged for him to fly to Albany to meet with a diocesan investigator on March 27, Munnelly said. "They were very anxious to meet with him as quickly as possible," the lawyer said.

The diocese did not notify the Florida man that his alleged abuser was suspended; he learned only after news reports Sunday night, his lawyer said.

The two men who complained about Connolly knew nothing of the other's allegations.

Learning about a second complaint was frustrating for the man who said he first reported his abuse during a meeting with Hubbard on July 3.

"It sounds like they were waiting for someone else to validate my claim," said the man, who is now a 47-year-old married insurance executive living downstate.

The diocese has repeatedly declined to discuss its investigation of Connolly. "When the Albany Diocese receives a complaint about sexual abuse, we conduct a thorough investigation and that process continues in this matter," the church's statement said on Wednesday.

While Connolly was principal at Cardinal McCloskey High School from 1972 to 1976, he worked alongside two assistant principals who also have been accused of sexually abusing children the Rev. Joseph Romano in 1974 and the Rev. David Bentley in 1976, church records show.

Hubbard and Connolly are longtime friends. They were seminary classmates at Mater Christi in Albany in 1964. Until last week, Connolly played an active role in the diocese's financial management, serving as chaplain of diocesan cemeteries and interim chair of the Priests Retirement Board.

Attorney John Aretakis, who now represents Connolly's first accuser and several other alleged victims, questioned the diocese's investigation procedures.

"There is never a witness to a man who has sex with a boy," he said. "The misconduct panel should be reviewing the credibility of each individual victim and each allegation rather than just waiting for a second victim to arrive."

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