Two and a half years after he was removed as pastor of a New Fairfield church for allegedly sexually harassing a female church employee, Monsignor Martin Ryan was appointed pastor of a Stratford Roman Catholic church. Ryan’s appointment Saturday at Our Lady of Grace Church prompted numerous calls from parishioners who said they were shocked to learn that their new spiritual leader was a priest who not only had been removed from a prior job, but had previously been accused of molesting a teenage girl in Trumbull in the 1970s. In that case, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport agreed to pay a settlement to the complainant, even though Ryan denied the allegations.
Diocese spokesman Brian Wallace said Ryan has been working as an administrator at the Stratford church for more than two years and replaces the church’s former pastor, who died. “After the problem in New Fairfield, he did undergo counseling and spiritual therapy and he has been embraced by the parish,” Wallace said. “He has worked very well rebuilding the parish.” That’s little comfort for John Marshall Lee, spokesman for Voice of the Faithful, an organization of local parishioners brought together in response to the sex scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church. “This is the type of thing that erodes trust in the church,” he said.”In addition to supporting the victims of sexual abuse by priests, the second goal of Voice of the Faithful is to support priests of integrity, and anything that diminishes the role of the priest is difficult for the whole community.” This comes just days after the Archdiocese of Chicago, one of the largest and most influential in the U.S., agreed to make public more than 6,000 pages of documents showing that it concealed sexual abuse by priests for decades, including moving priests to new parishes where they molested again. “This is another example of the (Bridgeport) diocese turning a blind eye to past history, which is very disturbing,” said Cindy Robinson, whose law firm, Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney, represented more than two dozen people and who won multi-million-dollar settlements from the diocese for abuse claims, including the one against Ryan. “It’s sad, considering they supposedly have all these policies in place,” Robinson said. Ryan was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Ryan, who had been pastor of St. Edward the Confessor Church in New Fairfield since 1992, was removed from the church in June 2011 by diocese officials after acknowledging he had sent “inappropriate” emails to a female parish employee. At the time ,Wallace said there was no allegation or evidence of any sexual conduct. In an interview in June 2011 with the Connecticut Post, the 49-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld, claimed she first complained to diocese officials in March that Ryan was acting inappropriately toward her. Diocese officials confirmed Wednesday they did get the complaint in March 2011. The woman, who had resigned from her job with the church, said Ryan touched her inappropriately on a number of occasions in the church office and sent her inappropriate emails. She said she twice asked him to keep their relationship at an appropriate business level. “I had just gone through a divorce, and I guess I was an easy target for him,” she said. She said she became frustrated when the diocese did not immediately remove Ryan, but instead offered to have him apologize to her. “They fully intended to sweep the whole thing under the rug,” she said. “If the diocese had come forward and said `we accept what you say and we are taking immediate action,’ I wouldn’t be speaking to you now.” Wallace said Wednesday that during that period, Ryan had experienced the death of his mother, his sister and a close friend. “At the time, he needed to reconstitute his priesthood and his life.” The diocese previously settled a claim by a woman who alleged in a lawsuit that she was molested by Ryan in the rectory of St. Theresa’s Church in Trumbull in the 1970s when the woman was 15 or 16. In her lawsuit, the woman said she was in the rectory when Ryan called her into his office. “He said he had to show me something in his office,” she stated in court papers. According to court documents, when she entered his office, the woman claimed Ryan grabbed her and began French kissing her. She said he fondled her breasts through her clothes, court documents state. When she tried to pull away, the woman said Ryan responded: “Isn’t this something you always wanted?” “I said, `No,’ and I was fighting to get away and he said, “This is all your fault, so you better not tell anyone.” The woman said she broke free and ran away, finally stopping to sit beneath some trees where she began sobbing uncontrollably. She said she told a girlfriend, who then told her the same thing had happened to her. She said diocese lawyer Michael Dolan later told her he had located her friend, who, along with her sister, claimed Ryan abused them. She said diocesan officials told her Ryan was having “issues with celibacy, ” court documents state. The Bridgeport Diocese also was roiled in early 2013 when Kevin Wallin, a cross-dressing, sexually active priest was indicted and pleaded guilty to federal charges involving dealing crystal methamphetamine.