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Bridgeport Diocese Settles Abuse Cases

Oct 17, 2003 | The Journal News

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport announced yesterday a $21 million settlement with 40 alleged victims of sexual abuse by 16 priests, its second major settlement in two years.
c. Lawyers for the alleged victims contend that Egan, who served as bishop from 1988 to 2000 and now heads the New York Archdiocese, allowed several of these priests to continue serving in parishes, despite knowing that they had been accused of abuse.

Egan was named as a defendant in three of seven cases related to the settlement.

Current Bridgeport Bishop William Lori, who succeeded Egan, stressed at a press conference yesterday at diocese headquarters that the diocese is committed to protecting children. He repeatedly apologized for past mistakes.

"Let me express my personal remorse and the remorse of the entire diocese for the harm that was caused to the lives of so many individuals," he said. "I have become more and more aware of the damage that sexual abuse brings about in people's lives. With all my heart, I apologize and ask for forgiveness."

Lori would not critique Egan's handling of abusive priests, though, saying he was not a "Monday morning quarterback."

"I'm confident that, under the circumstances, my predecessor handled things responsibly and according to his very, very best judgment," Lori said.

In March of 2001, the diocese and Egan reached its first major settlement with 24 people who claimed abuse. Egan, who had just been made a cardinal, had been deposed twice in connection with these cases and was scheduled to be deposed again before the settlement was reached.

Egan has in the past defended his handling of sexual abuse in Bridgeport, saying that church leaders followed the now-outdated advice of psychologists.

He offered a carefully worded, general apology, though, in an April 2002 letter read at Masses across New York. "If in hindsight we discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry," he said in the letter.

Egan is in Rome for Pope John Paul II's 25th anniversary and Tuesday's promotion of new cardinals. Lori said he had spoken to Egan recently.

"I know the cardinal feels deeply about this," he said.

Under Lori's leadership, the diocese reached the second settlement far more quickly. The allegations dealt with by the settlement were brought to the diocese's attention in May of last year. The two sides agreed to have a federal judge act as a mediator.

Lori said that 15 of the 16 priests associated with the settlement have been removed from ministry. One priest, who he said is not a danger to children, is still active.

Lori emphasized that no money from parish collections or other fund-raising campaigns would be use to pay the settlement. About 40 percent of the money will come from insurance, he said, and about 60 percent from the sale of undeveloped property.

The diocese has now settled 89 total claims of abuse involving 22 priests, agreeing to pay out $37.7 million, Lori said.

Lori was sent to Bridgeport in 2001 from the Archdiocese of Washington, where had had been an auxiliary bishop, to be a strong and aggressive voice against abuse. He has been a leading spokesman for the church's efforts to deal with the sex-abuse crisis and was part of a commission of American and Vatican bishops who made key revisions last year to a national policy for dealing with abuse in the U.S.

On Saturday, the Diocese of Bridgeport trumpeted the results of an independent audit that found that the diocese is in compliance with the new national policy. All of the nation's 195 dioceses are being audited this year, but Bridgeport has been one of few to independently announce the results.

However, Lori has faced criticism for banning Voice of the Faithful, a national group that is pushing for a greater lay role in the church, from meeting on diocese property. He has accused the group of seeking radical reforms, but said yesterday he has asked a theologian to meet with the group.

Robinson praised Lori for reaching out to victims and settling the second round of cases quickly.

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