Ruling may clear way for Egan testimony
HARTFORD – The state Appellate Court ruled Wednesday that seven priests of the Roman Catholic Diocese can block the diocese from releasing their personnel files to lawyers for people claiming they were sexually abused by other priests.
The decision may also clear the way for New York Archbishop Edward Egan, the former bishop of Bridgeport, to testify about what he knows about sexual abuse in the diocese.
In a 15-page decision, the appeals court ruled the priests, identified only as John Doe A. through G, can intervene in the abuse lawsuits against other priests in the diocese – only for the limited purpose of seeking to prevent disclosure of their records. The seven priests are not named in any lawsuits.
Cindy Robinson, the Bridgeport lawyer representing 21 people who claim to have been molested when they were children, said now that the seven priests have been made party to the lawsuits, she will seek to have their identities made public.
"If they are parties they should no longer enjoy John Doe status," she said.
But the priests’ lawyer, Mark Kravitz, called that "sour grapes."
"I am pleased the court agreed with our argument that we should be allowed to intervene and make sure their rights are protected."
Diocesan spokesman Tom Drohan said the diocese fully supported Kravitz’s action.
A total of 23 people claim in lawsuits against the diocese that they were sexually assaulted by six current and former priests in the Bridgeport diocese.
The alleged sexual assaults date back to the late 1960s, when the plaintiffs were either altar boys or members of diocesan youth organizations. Sixteen cases involve the Rev. Raymond Pcolka.
The first of the cases was set to go on trial last January, when Kravitz filed an appeal to have his clients made parties of the lawsuits so they could seek to keep their records from being turned over.
Robinson had been granted a motion to have Egan, who was then bishop of the Bridgeport diocese, turn over all records of complaints made against priests in the diocese, including those not named in lawsuits.
Robinson claims the priests’ records will show that there has been an ongoing coverup regarding clergy sex abuse within the diocese. Instead of removing alleged perpetrators from their posts, they were transferred to another parish, she said.
But Drohan countered that Robinson is on a "fishing expedition."
The appeal has also held up the planned deposition of Egan.
A judge previously ordered Egan to tell what he knows about the Bridgeport diocese’s policy regarding sexual misconduct by diocesan priests; his knowledge of complaints of sexual misconduct against priests in the diocese; and his knowledge about what steps were taken in response to complaints of sexual misconduct against priests.
Robinson said that now that the appeal has been decided, she will go to court to have Egan’s deposition scheduled as soon as possible. But Drohan said the diocese will wait to see what happens.
"Too often plaintiffs represent wishful thinking as fact," he said.