By SHERIDAN ROY
The Archdiocese of Hartford last week released a list of 48 names of Archdiocesan clergy from Catholic churches across the state who have been the object of lawsuits and legal settlements or were credibly accused of child sexual abuse. Offenses date from 1953 when the Archdiocese of Hartford was established through the present.
Two of the names on the list had spent time in ministries in Southington. Both are now deceased. At one point, John T. O’Connor was an assistant pastor at St. Thomas Church and a pastor emeritus at the Church of Saint Dominic. Both churches had schools at the time O’Connor served. Adolph Renkiewicz spent time as an assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception Church.
The Archdiocese’s release does not specify at which church the crimes took place, nor when they occurred. It also does not state if each individual was involved in one case, or several.
In a letter to the public that was included with the release of names, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair states the Archdiocese would work with retired Connecticut Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina to conduct an independent investigation to provide a “comprehensive and transparent accounting of sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Archdiocese of Hartford.”
“It is important to point out that there are no Archdiocese of Hartford priests currently in ministry in the Archdiocese of Hartford who have had credible allegations of child sexual abuse asserted against them,” said Blair in his letter. “I ask—the Church must ask—for forgiveness from those who have been victims of child sexual abuse by clergy, and from their parents, siblings and friends. Healing and reconciliation continue to be an essential but not easy goal, given the terrible effects that these sins and crimes can cause on the lives of victims, to whom the Church owes the deepest expression of sorrow and apology.”
Blair calls on a quote from Pope St. John Paul: “There is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.”
According to the press release, the Archdiocese has paid settlements totaling $50.6 million for 142 allegations of clergy sexual abusing a minor. The incidents involved 29 archdiocesan clergy and three priests from other dioceses.
Of those settlements, $24.5 million came from the general reserve fund, and $26.1 came from insurance recoveries. Of the 142 settled claims, the average settlement payment was $356,338.
Many of the clergy on the list were involved in civil lawsuits for sexual abuse of a minor, but that’s because the statute of limitations is longer for Connecticut’s civil law than the state’s criminal law. As a result, the criminal statute of limitations had expired before most of the incidents of abuse became known.
Southington Police Department lieutenant Steve Elliot said the statute of limitations has changed numerous times over the years.
“We would have to look at the statute of limitations on the incident, and obviously, if the suspect is dead, they’re not going to be prosecuted,” he said, “But if somebody walked in our lobby and said they were sexually assaulted as a child, whether it was a priest or not, we would sit down with them, take the information and certainly investigate what we had. It just may be something we would be unable to prosecute if outside of the statute of limitations.”
Representatives from St. Thomas Church, the Church of Saint Dominic, Immaculate Conception Church, and Southington Catholic School were unable to be reached for comment, but Southington Catholic School does have strict guidelines in their student handbook regarding sexual abuse. It also provides information on how to handle it.
Reports of sexual abuse can be reported to victim assistance coordinator at the Archdiocese of Hartford office Kathleen Nowosadko, along with the state department of children and families. Additionally, all personnel of the school must undergo a criminal background check, and all personnel must participate in the Protection of God’s Children training through the Archdiocese of Hartford.
“The fundamental purpose of Catholic schools is to provide a safe, nurturing and secure environment in which students encounter the living God, Jesus Christ, who reveals His transforming love and truth,” states the school’s policy handbook.
An introductory letter from the principal states the goal of the school is to inspire young students to become confident leaders in their young lives and in their futures.
“I believe that students learn best in a peaceful environment where they feel they can express themselves and be accepted,” states the principal. “I believe that mot parents choose a Catholic school for its religious values, its strong academics, and for the general order that exists in our Catholic schools.”
In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ charter for the protection of children and young people and the essential norms were instituted by the Archdiocese. Since then, there has been a zero-tolerance policy, permanently removing offending clergymen where an act of sexual abuse of a minor is admitted or established by an investigation.
“The crime and sin of abuse has clearly had serious material consequences, as well as moral and spiritual consequences, for the Church’s future ability to invest in its mission, particularly with a view toward future needs,” said Blair. “Although most settlements relate to incidents that took place more than 30 years ago, this does not diminish the continued pain of the victims/survivors and all those affected by abuse. The hurt and pain of the survivors is still very present.”
To view the full list, Blair’s full statement, and the financial report, visit promise.archdioceseofhartford.org/credibly-accused.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.