e-mail us

Sex Abuse Crisis

Documents provoke criticism of cardinal


Ending his silence on sexual abuse of minors by priests March 20, Cardinal Edward M. Egan said in a statement that in his former diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., clergy sexual abuse cases “were handled appropriately.”

Following a Jan. 6 report in The Boston Globe detailing the 30-year history of abuse of minors practiced by now defrocked priest John Geoghan (NCR, Jan 18), dozens of cases of clergy sex abuse in Boston and across the country have been reported, and clergy sex abuse has been condemned by many of the country’s bishops.

Egan became bishop of Bridgeport in 1988, a position he held until 2000, when he was promoted to head the New York archdiocese, often regarded as the most prominent see in the United States.

Egan issued his one-page statement three days after the Hartford Courant published a report headlined “Egan protected abusive priests.” That report was based on court documents that showed that three Hartford priests, Fr. Charles Carr, Fr. Raymond Pcolka and Fr. Laurence Brett, though facing multiple charges of abuse, were allowed by Egan to continue ministry in the diocese. The documents were supposed to have remained under court-ordered seal following a March 2001 $12 million settlement against diocesan priests. The Courant has not revealed how it obtained the documents.

Egan said in his one-page statement that the report “omitted certain key facts and contained inaccuracies.” Sexual abuse of children is “an abomination,” he said, and announced that he will issue a letter soon that will lay out “the salient and essential facts of this matter.”

The documents, which include extensive testimony given by Egan before the court, show that he disbelieved many allegations of abuse. They also show an apparent lack of sympathy for the priests’ victims.

In testimony given in 1999, Egan said in response to a lawyer’s question about whether or not he knew that a number of people had made similar claims against Pcolka: “I am aware that there are a number of people who know one another, some are related to one another, have the same lawyers and so forth, I am aware of the circumstances, yes.”

“So you understand that there is a significant part of the Catholic faithful that have claimed to be affected by Fr. Pcolka’s sexual abuses, correct?” a lawyer asked.

“I am not aware that a significant part of the Catholic faithful claim to have been affected by Father’s abuses, no. ... Is 12 a significant portion?” he said. “And then let us please remember that the 12 have never been proved to be telling the truth.”

The New York Times March 18 reported that an examination of the documents further indicated that Egan did not report allegations of clergy sex abuse even though a Connecticut law in place since 1971 required him to do so. The Times said, however, that prosecution of Egan for failure to report the allegations could be very difficult at this date, and that the statute of limitations in the cases may have passed.

Egan is also facing criticism for his handling of an accused priest in the New York archdiocese. Egan has allowed Fr. Henry Mills to continue in his ministry, despite a 1997 lawsuit alleging that when assigned to a Bronx church he sexually abused a 17-year-old boy. Mills works at St. Elizabeth Church in Washington Heights, N.Y, where he celebrates Mass, but has been instructed not to be involved with the parish school.

National Catholic Reporter, March 29, 2002