In its effort to defend itself from an accusation of sexual abuse by one of its priests, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hartford collided in court Friday with one of the unflinchingly obedient Catholic families that form its core. The retired parents of an altar boy took the witness stand and described the day they were shaken by their by-then grown son’s disclosure that a priest, known to the family for years, abused him and his best friend while the boys attended a diocesan grammar school in Derby.
The now-adult altar boy is identified as Jacob Doe in his negligence suit against the diocese. His father is a former church deacon. His mother is a former parish nurse.The parents testified in Superior Court about the day three years ago when their son flew to the Virginia Beach home where they had retired. He told them he was traveling on business. In reality, he had decided to sue the church and wanted to tell his parents of the abuse in private. They said he waited to deliver the news until his parents had completed their volunteer shifts at a Virginia Beach soup kitchen.”We all started to cry,” Doe’s father testified. “It was shocking. It was painful, because I could feel his pain. Anger. Anger at the hierarchy of the church to allow this to happen. And guilty. I felt guilty that I had allowed this to happen.”Doe’s mother testified that her son went for a walk on the beach after delivering the news, giving his parents an opportunity to discuss the disclosure between themselves.”I remember, once he left the house, that I began screaming and swearing,” Doe’s mother testified. “I just couldn’t believe what he had told us.”When it was his turn to question Doe’s father, church lawyer Jack Sitarz wanted to know whether he and his wife had taught their three children the “virtues of modesty” and about “the Catholic Church’s teaching against sexual activities outside marriage.” Doe’s father answered yes on both counts.He also testified, in response to another question by Sitarz, that he “remained an active, practicing Catholic” in spite of what he learned from his son.The diocese has paid millions of dollars to settle dozens of suits by adults who claim to have been abused as children by priests. Until now, the suits have been settled confidentially and the church has denied wrongdoing.Doe’s is the first to go to public trial. The childhood best friend with whom Doe claims to have been abused has also sued, and his case is pending.Both men claim that during their final year in St. Mary’s parochial school, when they were 13-year-old eighth-graders, the Rev. Ivan Ferguson repeatedly abused them. Ferguson was appointed by the diocese in 1979 as the school’s priest and director.Doe was top student, graduating from the eighth grade in 1981 with near perfect grades. Both he and his friend were altar boys and their duties included serving Ferguson when he celebrated Mass at the school.Both Doe and his childhood friend have testified that Ferguson, sometimes accompanied by an adult male friend, showed them pornographic films and magazines and molested them during “sleepovers” at the church rectory where Ferguson lived in Derby.Sometimes, after the abuse, Doe said, Ferguson would sneak boys into church and say a private mass for them. Ferguson died in 2002.Doe’s suit claims high church officers, including former Archbishop John F. Whealon, knew Ferguson was an alcoholic who was attracted to and abused boys, yet allowed him to work in a school where he had access to children.Specifically, the suit claims a mother from Simsbury complained to the diocese years earlier in the late 1970s, that Ferguson had abused her sons. At the time, Ferguson was working at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford.Evidence earlier in the trial showed that after the complaint by the Simsbury parent, Whealon sent Ferguson to St. Luke’s Institute, formerly in Holliston, Mass. The institute is a church-run clinic that purported to treat priests for a variety of disorders, such as alcoholism. Parties to the suit are expected to dispute whether the institute purported to cure pedophilia as well.In his opening statement to the two men and four woman on the civil jury, Sitarz said Ferguson was reassigned to his teaching position at St. Mary’s School in Derby only after being pronounced “fit” for duty by St. Luke’s.In his cross-examinations, Sitarz has implied that, since Doe and his friend never forcefully resisted Ferguson’s advances, they may have enjoyed them.The friend disputed the suggestion at the close of his testimony Friday.”That’s outrageous and a distortion, ” he said……..”The sex as a 13-year-old kid with this old man wasn’t something I looked forward to,” he said. “I didn’t want it to happen. I wanted my friendship with Father Ferguson to continue, but I didn’t want the sex to take place.”The Hartford Courant, Edmund Mahony7:23 PM EST, January 27, 2012