In an attempt to keep the documents secret, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport has admitted in a court filing that it is aware of 32 claims of sexual abuse allegedly committed by eight priests over three decades at the same parish — St. Theresa's in Trumbull.
The files contained in 126 boxes are part of a legal battle at Superior Court in Waterbury over whether attorneys for the estate ofMichael Powel, a now-deceased Florida man, can get the documents as part of a lawsuit against the diocese.
The lawsuit alleges that not only was the diocese aware that it employed Carlo Fabbozzi, a landscaper/maintenance man who allegedly molested Powel more than 50 times over a four-year period from 1968 to 1972, but also that the priest in charge of supervising Fabbozzi, the Rev. Joseph Gorecki, molested Powel as well.
"In all of my years in doing these cases, I've never seen this many sexual abuse claims against priests out of one parish," New York attorney J. Michael Reck said Tuesday. Reck, who also has offices in California, handled several lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which settled more than 500 claims for $660 million in 2007.
The diocese acknowledges in the court filing that the incidents at St. Theresa's allegedly occurred between 1968 and 2000. There were eight priests assigned to St. Theresa's who were named in a total of 32 separate sexual abuse allegations, according to the court filing.
The church's court filing breaks down the abuse claims in segments based on the dates Powel attended St. Theresa's School, from 1968 to 1972:
•Nine of the alleged sexual abuse incidents occurred before 1973.
•Eighteen of the claims allegedly occurred between 1973 and 1983.
•Two of the claims allegedly occurred between 1984 and 1989.
•Three of the claims allegedly occurred after 1990.
The court filing lists only two of the priests — Gorecki and the Rev. John Cataldo. Records show that six other priests who have had lawsuits settled by the diocese, including Gregory Smith, Martin Ryan and Joseph Moore, also were assigned to St. Theresa's during the time frame in the diocese's court filing.
The 13-page document filed by the diocese's attorney Richard Colbert seeks to have Judge William J. Cremins reverse his previous order that the diocese produce all of the documents for Reck.
The motion argues that any claims of abuse alleged to have occurred after 1972 are irrelevant to the Powel case and would be costly for the diocese. The diocese is seeking to modify the court order so that it has to produce only the records regarding abuse that allegedly occurred prior to or at the time of the incidents alleged by Powel in the current lawsuit.
"Simply put, thousands upon thousands of dollars should not be spent by the diocese to review these post-incident, unrelated priest irrelevant acts, simply because Michael Powel alleges he was abused one time for one minute in the winter of 1971," Colbert wrote.
Reck says the characterization of the alleged abuse by Gorecki is not only insensitive but inaccurate.
"Gorecki's abuse wasn't as ongoing as Fabbozzi's, but to classify it as this minor thing as their motion does is inaccurate as well," Reck said.
But in a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the diocese questions whether Powel's accusation against Gorecki is true.
"Mr. Powel claimed that he 'recovered' an additional 'memory' after the year 2000, to the effect that a priest of the particular parish abused him on a single occasion 37 years ago," the statement said.
"Mr. Powel admits he was not a parishioner of the priest he accused. That priest was deceased for over a dozen years when Mr. Powel 'remembered' the priest's alleged wrongful conduct," the statement said.
Powel won an earlier lawsuit against Fabbozzi in which a jury awarded him more than $10 million. Fabozzi never paid the money. Powel died in 2008 and never collected any of the money, Reck said. Fabbozzi, a landscaper and maintenance man at St. Theresa's, worked at the church and the elementary school for more than 30 years. He was fired by the diocese in 2002 after Powel's original lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit against the Bridgeport diocese wasn't filed until 2006, after the Fabbozzi suit. The suit alleges that Gorecki was in charge at St. Theresa's during part of the time that Fabbozzi was molesting Powel. The suit alleges that Gorecki abused Powel, who was 12 at the time, once in the boy's bathroom at the St. Theresa elementary school.
The diocese has denied that Fabbozzi was a church employee. In the statement released Tuesday, he is described as a "lawn man."
"After he realized he could not collect this judgment, Mr. Powel filed a new lawsuit in 2006, then alleging that the lawn man was an employee of a Catholic parish; that Mr. Powel was an employee of the lawn man; and that the Diocese of Bridgeport should somehow be responsible because the lawn man injured his employee," the statement said. "His allegations regarding the lawn man's misconduct, 37 years ago during the 1968 to 1972 time period, were based upon, as Mr. Powel admitted, a 'memory' that he said he 'recovered' in 2000."