Diocese, Holy Cross fight to keep abuse documents secret in ‘spotlight’ case

By Daniel Tepfer

Cardinal Edward Michael Egan receives communion from his succesor Bishop William E. Lori during Lori's installation as the fourth Bishop of Bridgeport in 2001.

Cardinal Edward Michael Egan receives communion from his succesor Bishop William E. Lori during Lori’s installation as the fourth Bishop of Bridgeport in 2001.

Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and the international Congregation of Holy Cross urged a judge Thursday not to make public hundreds of documents detailing how priest abuse was handled by bishops Edward Egan and William Lori.

“If there is a letter to the diocese that we heard father so-and-so had done this thing and this information, if it were made public, would taint this priest,” Diocese lawyer Ernest J. Mattei told Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis.

It’s been more than 10 years since the diocese paid more than $15 million to more than two dozen people who claimed they were abused by priests when they were children. And then there was the award-winning movie “Spotlight,” about the abuse cases in Boston that many thought had closed the door on the whole abuse scandal.

But for more than two years, three local lawyers, Jason Tremont, Cindy Robinson and Douglas Mahoney, who represent five alleged victims of four priests, have been battling with the lawyers for the diocese in Superior Court here.

Their victims were all altar boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s who claim they were abused by Rev. Martin Federici in St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Norwalk and St. Edward the Confessor in New Fairfield; The Rev. Walter Coleman at St. Patrick’s Church in Bridgeport; The Rev. James Gildea at Notre Dame High School in Fairfield; and Robert Morrissey at St. Mary’s High School in Greenwich.

Bishop William E. Lori installation as the forth Bishop of Bridgeport in 2001.

Bishop William E. Lori installation as the forth Bishop of Bridgeport in 2001.

All the priests are on a list of “Credibly Accused Diocesan Priests,” on the diocese’s website.

In 2004, Bishop Lori released a study about the problem of sexual abuse of children in the Diocese of Bridgeport. Bishop Lori is quoted as saying “The John Jay analysis for the Diocese of Bridgeport represents an important step in our desire to let everyone know what took place,” Mahoney said. “In 2016, there is a new bishop and we are once again faced with motions seeking confidentiality similar to what we saw in the 1990s under Bishop Egan. As we have learned, it is only by shining a spotlight on the issue of clergy sex abuse can we make our children safe.”

None of the lawyers for the diocese nor the Congregation of Holy Cross would comment on the case.

The lawyers for the diocese had already been ordered by Judge Bellis to turn over all the documents regarding abuse allegations against the four priests, but then filed a motion to prevent Tremont, Robinson and Mahoney from making any of the documents public.

“The Diocese has agreed to and has spent many, many hours satisfying Tremont and Sheldon’s discovery demand to review and disclose any and all information found in priest personnel files, including priests not accused of anything,“ the Diocese said in a statement late Thursday. “Their request has been extremely broad and has involved the personnel records of numerous priests with long and successful careers who have never had an allegation brought against them. These priests are not in any way implicated in the current cases, and the Diocese has complied with the request, producing the documents. However, it is seeking to limit the use of this information outside of the current cases at issue.”

The Rev. Robert Morrissey pictured at St. Mary's Church in Ridgefield, Conn. is accused of abusing altar boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s at St. Mary's High School in Greenwich.

The Rev. Robert Morrissey pictured at St. Mary’s Church in Ridgefield, Conn. is accused of abusing altar boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s at St. Mary’s High School in Greenwich.

“This information is not intended to titillate the public,” argued Gina Bonoehsen, the lawyer for the Congregation of Holy Cross, an international society of more than 1,200 brothers and priests.

But Mahoney pointed out that many of these so-called secret diocese documents include letters to the editor and magazine articles about the abuse scandal.

“I don’t see any reason to protect these documents,” the judge agreed.

Bellis gave the diocese’s lawyers until Sept. 26 to give the plaintiffs’ lawyers documents it doesn’t think the public should see.

Tremont, Robinson and Mahoney then have until Oct. 3 to disagree with what the diocese submitted and then the judge would make a decision on Oct. 11.

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