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Court Orders Norwich Diocese To Turn Over Priest Records

Apr 11, 2003 | AP

The Norwich Diocese has been ordered to release the personnel files of a priest accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the late 1970s.

In Middlesex Superior Court, Judge Trial Referee Daniel F. Spallone rejected the diocese's motion for a protective order that would have kept the records of the former Rev. Bruno Primavera from public view.

In a lawsuit against Primavera and the diocese, Michael Nelligan alleges that the priest sexually abused him in 1977 and 1978, when he was 14 and 15 years old. Primavera was a pastor at St. Mark's the Evangelist Church in Westbrook at the time.

The lawsuit also says the diocese and church officials disregarded complaints against Primavera.

Nelligan's lawyer, Robert I. Reardon Jr., said he believes Primavera's files contain letters "from bishops to bishops and from priests to priests concerning transfers of Primavera."

"My argument was that it's high time the Catholic Church stop covering up," Reardon said Thursday. "I need these documents to demonstrate that the Catholic Church is covering up."

Reardon also is representing a plaintiff named only as John Doe who claims he was molested by Primavera after the priest was transferred to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in New London. Doe was also a teenager at the time.

Primavera was later sent to New Mexico, where he was a priest and counselor at New Mexico Military Institute. While in New Mexico, Primavera was arrested and convicted of felony sexual offense involving his students, Reardon said.

The diocese had argued that releasing Primavera's records, and their disclosure in the media, could impair the defendants' right to a fair trial.

But Spallone ruled in favor of Nelligan.

"All courts have experienced scrutiny where the case is subject to intense media focus. It is rarely shown that such concentration results in an unfair trial of the accused," Spallone said.

"Furthermore, it is well established that democracy, truth and justice flourish in the bright light of openness, where, on the other hand, they wilt in the shadows of secrecy," he said.

Joseph T. Sweeney, a lawyer representing the diocese, said Thursday that he did not plan to appeal the judge's ruling.

"The position I took was that these documents could be handed over but not exploited by the news media," Sweeney said.

Sweeney said the diocese had no prior knowledge of any sexual abuse "until the very end."

Primavera was never an employee of the Norwich Diocese, Sweeney said.

A Fairfield County native, he came from the Toronto Archdiocese to be closer to his recently widowed mother and to serve the Norwich Diocese on "a one-year-at-a-time trial basis."

Primavera served at St. Mark's beginning in June 1978, Sweeney said, and on Sept. 7, 1979, was reassigned to St. Mary, where he served until Feb. 7, 1980.

"And at that stage Bishop Daniel Reilly decided he no longer wanted to have him around and sent him back to Toronto," Sweeney said. "After that, he did bounce around."

Primavera, who know lives in New Britain, is no longer a priest. He could not be reached for comment.


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