Daniel Tepfer, Staff Writer
Published: 12:41 p.m., Tuesday, September 28, 2010
BRIDGEPORT -- A former Fairfield man claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport that he was sexually abused by a priest at a Fairfield church in the early 1970s.
Eric Sauers, who now lives in Iowa, states in his lawsuit filed in Bridgeport Superior Court, that he was abused by the Rev. Walter Philip Coleman while he was an altar boy at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Fairfield. He claims the abuse began when he was 10 years old.
"Father Coleman used his position as a parish priest to befriend children in order to ultimately sexual abuse them. Simply put, The Diocese should have prevented this from occurring," said Cindy Robinson, who, with Jason Tremont, represents Sauers in the lawsuit.
Diocese officials did not immediately return phone calls for comment.
According to the lawsuit, the claimed abuse began in early 1972. Following a Mass at the church, Coleman volunteered to give Sauers a ride home but instead he took the boy in his car to various locations in the Fairfield area and sexually abused him, the suit states.
Coleman's alleged abuse of children has already cost the diocese several million dollars in settlements. The Bridgeport law firm of Tremont & Sheldon has represented five people who previously claimed to have been abused by Coleman
St. Thomas Aquinas was the sixth parish Coleman was assigned to in his initial 13 years at the diocese. Church documents released as a result of other lawsuits against the diocese show that in the 1970s complaints were made to the diocese about Coleman abusing boys. For 2 months in 1976, Coleman was allowed to take a sabbatical to travel across country with a minor and in 1985 the diocese became aware that Coleman purchased a home in Bridgeport with a single mother. Subsequently, there were complaints Coleman was sexually abusing the woman's son.
In 1995 the diocese suspended Coleman after Tremont's law firm filed a lawsuit against him. However, the Connecticut Post later learned that Coleman was serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of Miami. He was removed from that position after the Post contacted church officials there.
Coleman currently lives in Pompano, Fla. Tremont said he believes Coleman receives monthly payments from the Diocese of Bridgeport retirement plan.
"The Diocese had a history of transferring known abusers to different parishes without informing the new pastor, maintaining secret archives and destroying documents. Under that system, it is unfortunately not surprising that certain pedophile priests flourished and continued to abuse," said Tremont.