Egan’s Remarks on Priest Abuse Scandal Draw Fire
February 7, 2012
Daniel Tepfer, Connecticut Post
BRIDGEPORT — Former New York Cardinal Edward Egan, who was at the center of the priest abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport when he was bishop here, has drawn criticism from a national victims’ group and a local law firm that represented victims with an interview he recently gave.
In the recent edition of Connecticut Magazine, Egan said that while bishop here, he did nothing wrong regarding abuse allegations against priests in the diocese and in fact never had a case of alleged abuse while he was bishop.
In the interview, Egan also said he believes there is no legal requirement to report abuse cases in Connecticut and expressed regret for the apology he made regarding the priest scandal here.
“First of all, I should have never said that,” Egan told the magazine regarding his 2002 statement of regret. “I did say if we did anything wrong, I’m sorry, but I don’t think we did anything wrong.”
Egan succeeded Bishop Walter Curtis, who had overseen the diocese from 1961 to 1988.
“Egan is obviously unrepentant, self-absorbed and painfully dismissive of the abject suffering of tens of thousands of deeply wounded men, women and children who have been sexually violated by priests, nuns, bishops, brothers, seminarians and other Catholic officials,” said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We can’t help but believe that many other prelates feel exactly as he does, but are shrewd enough to avoid saying so outside of clerical circles.”
Clohessy urged Egan’s successors, Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, to denounce those statements.
“I believe it’s not in the bishop’s heart to condemn another bishop,” said Bridgeport Diocese spokesman Brian Wallace, who was unaware of the Egan interview. “Bishop Lori stands on his own record. He came into a crisis, a most painful time in the local church’s history, he responded in a way that not only addressed the crisis in our diocese, but set a model for the national church.”
In the interview, Egan said many of his accomplishments were unfairly overshadowed by the priest sex abuse scandal. “I’m not the slightest bit surprised that, of course, the scandal was going to be fun in the news—not fun, but the easiest thing to write about.”
That statement also drew criticism.
“Cardinal Egan’s statements in this article, including describing the sex abuse scandal as being `incredibly good’ or `fun’ for the news, confirms the extent to which he was out of touch with the reality of what occurred to the Catholic faithful within his diocese,” said local attorney Jason Tremont. The three represented more than 90 people who received settlements from the diocese for claims of abuse from the 1960s through the mid-1990s. “For the cardinal to `take back’ his apology is just another slap in the face of every victim who has endured the physical and emotional upheaval and betrayal of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.”
Church documents obtained by the Connecticut Post during more than 10 years of reporting abuse allegations against priests here show that Egan was made aware of specific allegations of abuse by priests when he became bishop here in 1988. However, not only did Egan not report the abuse claims to police authorities, he covered up the allegations, moving offending priests around the diocese.
According to Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Cornelius Kelly, under Connecticut law since 1971 clergy have been among those “mandated reporters” who are obligated to inform law enforcement agencies when they are aware of allegations of sexual abuse against children.
The Bridgeport diocese agreed to pay nearly $40 million in settlements to dozens of people who claimed their abuse at the hands of more than a dozen priests in the diocese since the 1960s was covered up by the church. Most of the settlements were reached just days after Egan left the diocese to become cardinal of New York.
In 1989, Egan assigned Rev. Martin Federici, who according to church documents was accused of abusing several children, to the former Cathedral High School. Federici was moved to another post in the diocese after complaints were made that he abused a child at the high school.
That same year, Egan was informed that the then-Rev. Joseph DeShan had impregnated a 14-year-old girl who was working at the rectory at St. Augustine Cathedral. Church records show Egan had the girl fired from her job at the rectory and didn’t inform police of the situation. Instead, DeShan voluntarily left the priesthood.
In January 1993, the first lawsuit was filed against the diocese claiming the Rev. Raymond Pcolka sexually abused two children in the early 1980s. When the lawsuit was filed, diocese officials adamantly denied they had ever before received a complaint of abuse against Pcolka. But court documents later showed that the diocese had been in negotiations since 1989 with a lawyer representing people who claimed they were abused as children by Pcolka.
A total of 16 people would later claim they were abused by Pcolka in the early 1980s but the diocese did not suspend the priest until March 1993.
In October 2003, Lori, named bishop in 2000, publicly apologized to those abused by priests in the diocese. Lori was in the forefront of church efforts nationally to develop policies to deal with priest sex abuse.
Egan, who retired in 2009, lives in New York City.
The closest Egan ever came to making an apology was in an April 2002 letter to parishioners in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“It is clear that today we have a much better understanding of this problem,” Egan wrote. “If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards to prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.”