A Connecticut woman has filed a racketeering lawsuit accusing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich of conspiring to cover up sexual abuse of children by priests.
The woman is known only as Jane Doe in the lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Hartford. She alleges she was sexually abused by the late Rev. Thomas W. Shea in 1976 when she was 13 and he was assigned to St. Joseph’s Church in New London.
The lawsuit claims the alleged cover-up conspiracy involved diocese officials transferring Shea and several other priests to other parishes numerous times after they were accused of sexual abuse.
The woman’s lawyer, Robert Reardon, said he believes the lawsuit is the first racketeering case brought against the Catholic Church in Connecticut. Similar lawsuits have been filed around the country, but nearly all have failed, in attempts to get around time limits for taking legal action.
“We tried to demonstrate through a number of different instances, and through a course of certain conduct, how this conspiracy went,” Reardon said. “Whenever there was a complaint, the priest would be transferred.”
Norwich diocese spokesman Michael Strammiello released a written statement Tuesday in response to questions from The Hartford Courant.
“We cannot comment on active litigation and risk jeopardizing the proceedings,” he wrote. “Allegations of abuse from the past are always difficult for everyone involved. The church and our diocese have come a long way in preventing and assuring that these issues will not be part of our present or future.”
Abuse complaints were first filed against Shea in the 1950s and he was transferred numerous times after being accused until he was placed on leave in 1983, according to the lawsuit and published reports.
The lawsuit says the diocese and current and former diocese officials should be held accountable under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It accuses the defendants of concealing priests’ criminal conduct, obstructing justice, bribing victims to keep criminal conduct secret and other crimes.
Racketeering carries up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000 per count.
The lawsuit was first filed in New London Superior Court on Nov. 18, but was transferred recently to federal court at the request of the defendants.
The diocese and its insurance company have paid nearly $5 million to alleged victims of sexual abuse, according to the church.
Information from: The Hartford Courant
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