BRIDGEPORT, CT — An independent review of sexual abuse allegations against Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport priests found church leadership for decades had been not only indifferent to abuse in its midst, but had taken actions that only deepened the wounds of sexual abuse survivors. Leaders also allowed some serial pedophiles to abuse children across several decades.

The report found 71 priests had been accused of abusing 281 children over 66 years. But the actual numbers for both are likely higher due to inadequate record keeping along with some records being destroyed by Bishop Walter Curtis.

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Details of allegations (Around page 146) against each priest are presented in the report along with a complete record of where and when they served in the diocese. Some of the records paint a picture of prolific sexual abuse being allowed to continue for decades, and in many instances those who were accused weren’t removed, but were instead promoted through the ranks of the diocese.

Martin Federici, who was removed from the ministry in 1996, was credibly accused by 19 victims between 1967 and 1994.

Raymond Pcolka was credibly accused by 28 victims between 1965 and 1990. His victims ranged in age from 5 to 14 and included both boys and girls, according to the report. Nearly $12 million was paid in settlements to his victims.

The report was particularly scathing of former Bishops Curtis and Edward Egan and also found the practice of re-assigning a priest after an abuse allegation dates back to the diocese’s founding in the 1950s under Bishop Lawrence Shehan.

But lead investigator and retired Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg concluded the diocese had made serious reforms to quickly remove priests accused of abuse and protect children starting with Bishop William Lori began his tenure in 2001. Reforms continued under current Bishop Frank Caggiano.

The review was commissioned by Caggiano about a year ago. Last year Caggiano released an accounting of priests who had been credibly accused of abuse and the financial settlements paid out to survivors. Holzberg and his team sifted through more than 250,000 diocesan records along with thousands of individual documents and inspections of parish offices and computer systems. They also interviewed dozens of people.

Much of what was released in the report Tuesday already had been made public at varying times throughout the years, but Caggiano said it now offered all the information in one complete package that had been independently vetted outside of the diocese.

“I wish again to offer my profound and heartfelt apology to all who have suffered abuse at the hands of any cleric in our Diocese,” Caggiano said in an open letter. “I also apologize to all those who have lost a sense of trust or feel betrayed by Church leadership. My personal commitment is to do whatever is humanly possible to eradicate this evil from our midst.”

Caggiano said during a Tuesday press conference he hoped the report would shed light on the diocese’s efforts over the past 18 years to be transparent about past abuse, help survivors heal and protect children going forward.

“We continue to maintain and will forever maintain a zero tolerance for any priest who is credibly accused of abuse of any form,” he said.

Caggiano also said he is totally committed to recommendations made in the report to prevent future abuse and account for past abuse.

The numbers behind the report

In most cases the evidence of abuse is overwhelmingly conclusive, according to the report. The 71 priests made up 4.7 percent of the total number of priests who served in the diocese over that time period. The report also found that 10 of the 71 priests were responsible for 61 percent of the reported sexual abuse incidents.

There have only been two reports of sexual abuse in the 21st century, with one report in 2001 and another in 2008.

The breakdown by decade for reported abuse:
1940s: 2
1950s: 20
1960s: 59
1970s: 114
1980s: 53
1990s: 22
2000s: 2
Unknown decade: 2

Around 75 percent of the victims are male, 16 percent are female and the other 9 percent’s sex can’t be ascertained by records.

There are 10 priests who have been determined by the Diocesan Review Board not to have been credibly accused, but were subjects of settlement payments. Holzberg recommended the Review Board reconsider those cases.

Another 41 priests have been determined to be credibly accused by the Review Board and another 19, many of whom are deceased, have either been determined to not be credibly accused by the Review Board due to a lack of evidence or have cases pending before the board.

The report found files for the 19 priests sometimes contain little or no information, and often the report was anonymous.

Broken laws, failing to protect future victims

Holzberg said while society’s understanding of the appropriate response to child sexual abuse has changed over the last century, its recognition that child sex abuse is morally and legally wrong hasn’t. He concluded Curtis and Egan profoundly failed to identify and respond effectively to the crisis situation of child sex abuse in the diocese.

“Until the early 2000s, the collective response of diocesan officials to the sexual abuse crisis was inadequate in nearly every way, but the single gravest moral and legal lapse was the consistent practice of Bishops Lawrence Shehan, Walter Curtis and Edward Egan — over four decades — of leaving abusive priests in service, and thereby making it possible for them to continue committing abusive acts,” Holzberg wrote.

Curtis and Egan failed to comply with legal obligations under a 1971 state law that mandates priests report allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement or the state Department of Children and Families.

There was also no evidence Curtis ever made efforts to help victims.

“Bishop Egan’s response was profoundly unsympathetic, inadequate and inflammatory. He openly acknowledged to his staff, and signaled to the public through his behavior, that he believed his principal responsibility was to preserve the assets and reputation of the diocese rather than to work for the well-being of survivors and secure justice for them,” Holzberg wrote.

The report highlighted Father John Castaldo and Egan’s response to allegations. A first-grade teacher wrote to Egan in 1994 that Castaldo had showered two students with inappropriate attention, including giving tickets to hockey and basketball games.

“I do not want Fr. John to enter my classroom again,” the teacher wrote to Egan. “If a more serious problem ever develops, I don’t want it said that it began in my first grade class and nothing was said or done about it. Fr. John has not listened to the directive of our Principal. So I am going to a higher authority for help. Thank you for listening to my concerns.”

Castaldo met with a monsignor and denied the allegations and was allowed to remain at the school.

Later that year the monsignor wrote a memo to Egan about more troubling behavior from Castaldo, who would take children on trips at his own expense and a report of seeing him at the Trumbull mall with a young teenage girl “hanging all over him.”

Egan then received another complaint about Castaldo in 1996 directly from a parent who said Castaldo threatened her son and their family and that he wasn’t being held accountable. The family was ultimately driven away from St. Edward, the woman wrote in her letter.

Egan then learned of yet another complaint in 1999 about Castaldo. The parents of a 13-year-old boy said Castaldo was trying to inappropriately communicate with their son via email.

Castaldo sexually abused at least 11 minors between 1987 and 2001. He was removed from the ministry in 2002 and the diocese has paid out more than $600,000 in settlements to his victims. He had received several promotions along the way and in 1999 was named the spiritual director of Trinity Catholic High School in Stamford.

Problems were compounded by Egan’s strategy against plaintiffs in sexual abuse lawsuits, according to the report.

“He also followed a scorched-earth litigation policy that re-victimized survivor plaintiffs, dissipated valuable diocesan assets in bad-faith procedural maneuvers, and alienated large segments of the laity, the clergy, and the wider public.”

Under Egan the diocese tried to argue that accused priests weren’t employees of the diocese, but rather local parishes, or that they were independent contractors, according to the report. Holzberg found Egan’s aggressive legal strategy likely cost the church more in litigation and damages.

The report also details several unsettling accounts of abuse by Father Joseph Moore, who founded the youth group at Our Lady of Assumption Parish in Westport. Moore was in his late 20s and had become a popular priest due to his approachable nature. The youth group had several overnight trips with Moore.

One victim said that he was repeatedly molested by Moore during group outings and often had to hide in a friend’s tent to avoid Moore assaulting him. The victim said at one time he had considered becoming a priest himself, but now no longer belongs to any church or faith.

Moore groped two young men during an overnight ski trip in 1975, according to the report. They refused his sexual advances and had to flee him. Eventually the group barricaded Moore in a closet and called police. He threatened to kill the two young men, who took the threat literally. The two were called about a week after the incident by diocese representatives and were told it would be best for themselves and the church if they had forgot what happened, according to the report.

Moore’s alleged abuse didn’t stop there. During a 1979 Block Island trip he made strong sexual advances and two boys literally jumped out of a bedroom window to escape him. The families confronted Monsignor Andrew Cusack, who apparently kept no record of the allegations and took no action against Moore.

Recommendations

Holzberg recommended the Review Board go back for another look on the 10 priests who were part of global settlements but weren’t designated as credibly accused.

He also recommended the diocese refer all historical accusations determined to be credible to the Office of the State’s Attorney even if they were already forwarded to the Department of Children and Families.

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