Rocked by a $750,000 judgment for covering up the sexual misconduct of a priest in the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport is preparing a guide for pastors on how they might respond to concerned parishioners.
But it is unlikely the pastoral guide will be ready for this weekend, when the federal jury verdict announced Tuesday will be uppermost on the minds of Catholics, a diocesan spokesman said.
The day after the verdict, there were discussions at the diocesan level on what the communication should say, spokesman Thomas Drohan said. But "it is probably unrealistic to assume that that communication with the pastors will be completed in the next two or three days," he said Wednesday.
Drohan declined to talk about the nature of the communication. "That help should be presented through the pastors," he said, "not through the press."
Drohan, a public-relations man who specializes in representing institutions in crisis, was engaged by the Bridgeport diocese to handle inquiries related to sexual- abuse allegations.
Bridgeport is not alone in facing a crisis of what to say in light of adverse judgments involving pedophiles. Many other dioceses have had to deal with the problem since the first cases surfaced in lawsuits in the early 1980s.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has pointed out that people in all walks of lifehave been found to have sexually molested children. Offenders are heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals. Many are in the helping professions, working with children. Many are married. There is no evidence that there are more pedophiles among Catholic priests than in the other professions, church officials say.
Mark Chopko, a legal counsel for the bishops, has also pointed out that the Catholic Church's theology of priesthood contributes, in a sense, to the problems the church faces today.
In the Catholic Church, he said, "You are a priest no matter what you have done," while Protestant ministers accused of abusing children often quietly drop out of the ministry or are defrocked.
"There is a reluctance to abandon anyone to his fate. To do so would be for bishops to turn their backs on an important aspect of their theology," Chopko said. In years gone by, the bishops did not fully understand the repetitive nature of pedophilia, he said, and because of that, the lawsuits are now being filed.
More than 30 people have filed civil lawsuits involving at least 10 Connecticut priests, who have been suspended pending resolution of their cases.
These lawsuits are only now coming to trial. The case decided Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Haven was the first. The jurors found that the diocese fraudulently concealed evidence that the Rev. Laurence F.X. Brett had been abusing teenage boys in the early 1960s. They decided the diocese was culpable by failing to search out and help the plaintiff, Frank Martinelli, 50, now of Milwaukee, and other victims. The diocese is expected to appeal.
Brett, who was suspended by Bridgeport Bishop Edward M. Egan in 1993, would have been a defendant in the suit, but the plaintiff's lawyer, William Laviano, could not find him to serve legal papers. The Paulist Fathers, a Roman Catholic religious order, has confirmed that Brett has worked for the order for 18 years but will not disclose his whereabouts. He is listed as "author" of a bimonthly magazine of biblical commentary, Share the Word, that the Paulists sell through bulk orders to many parishes. It is published in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, the state Superior Court in Bridgeport has cleared the way for the diocese to face civil claims of negligence involving the Rev. Raymond Pcolka, former pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Greenwich. Fifteen people, men and women, from various parishes say Pcolka molested them sexually from 1966 to 1982. No date has been set yet for what may be one or more trials. None are expected to begin this year.
Like Brett, Pcolka has disappeared. He walked out of a psychiatric treatment center in 1993 and cannot be found, the diocese says.
In the United States alone since the early 1980s, an estimated 800 priests have been accused of abusing minors, costing the church an estimated $650 million in legal and medical costs to victims and perpetrators.
That figure does not include the latest, record award of $119.6 million against the Diocese of Dallas last month. A jury found the diocese negligent for not stopping the Rev. Rudolph Kos from sexually abusing at least 11 boys between 1977 and 1992.