Sexual abuse: Former Ridgefield pastor part of Bridgeport Diocese settlement

Legal settlements over sexual abuse allegations against four now deceased priests — including Robert Morrissey, former pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Ridgefield — have been reached between the Diocese of Bridgeport and five victims.

The settlements were announced by the Bridgeport law firm Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney P.C., which represented all the victims.

Morrissey served as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield from 1992 until 2002, when he resigned after sexual abuse allegations were made against him.

The allegations in the lawsuit that was just settled stem from Morrissey’s time as a counselor at St. Mary’s High School in Greenwich.

Morrissey’s priestly faculties were permanently removed in 2004 by then Bishop of Bridgeport William E. Lori. Morrissey died in 2014.

The just-concluded settlements involve abuse claims against four priests of the Diocese of Bridgeport by five victims who were minors at the time of the sexual abuse, though they are adults now.

“Probably the earliest one would be age 11, and range from 11 through high school,” Attorney Jason Tremont said of the victims his firm represented. “Anything that we’re dealing with is while a minor, so 17 and below.”

In addition to Morrissey, the priests and the institutions where they served when the alleged abuse took place, are:

  • Reverend Martin Federici, accused of abuse while serving in three settings: at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Norwalk, St. Edward the Confessor in New Fairfield, and on Emmaus church retreats in Danbury.
  • Reverend Walter Coleman, accused of abuse while at St. Patrick’s Church in Bridgeport.
  • Reverend James Gildea, accused of abuse while at Notre Dame High School in Fairfield.

“The Diocese of Bridgeport is committed to the healing process for all victims of sexual abuse and was pleased that they were able to successfully mediate these cases to resolution,” the Diocese said in a statement issued Monday, June 5.

“Because some of the plaintiffs requested confidentiality, the diocese is not at liberty to discuss the financial terms of the total settlement.

“The Diocese was able to cover nearly 70% of the settlement amount through historic insurance policy coverage and participation of other defendants such as the religious order to which a priest belonged.

“All of those bringing the claims are now adults as these cases date back over 30 years. The cases were all brought against previously accused priests who are now deceased.

“The Diocese continues to reaffirm its commitment to zero tolerance of child abuse, to remove from ministry anyone who has been credibly accused, and to bring healing and support to the victims and their families,” the statement reads.

The Diocese said anyone with questions or concerns should contact Erin Neil, director of safe environments and victim assistance coordinator, at 203-416-1406 or [email protected].

‘Very religious families’

A broad verbal sketch of the victims could be found in a statement issued by Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney P.C.

“Our clients all came from very religious families and they were altar boys, attended Catholic schools or were heavily involved in Emmaus,” Tremont said.

“…They came forward to try to prevent this type of abuse from occurring again and to hold the Diocese responsible.”

Tremont also said, “These pedophile priests used religion to gain access and trust.”

The law firm released a list of 29 priests from Diocese of Bridgeport and 17 from the Diocese of Hartford that had claims of sexual abuse made against them, have been sued, or suspended following allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

The firm’s statement said it had represented over 175 victims of childhood sexual abuse since 1993 and gotten over $63 million in recoveries from religious institutions, schools, medical facilities and sports coaches.

Tremont told The Press that his firm met “very aggressive” defense tactics by the Diocese — “a scorched earth policy” — in regards to the cases, which range from 1993 to about 2000.

There was one “global settlement” in 2000, and another a few years later.

“And since then, we’ve continued to have and resolve cases — literally up until this last group,” he said.

There was another group of cases settled back in 2012 and 2013, he said.

“This is just the last group that we’ve had resolved,” Tremont said.

“We’ve represented over 85 victims and collected over $40 million in reconciliation from just the Bridgeport Diocese,” Tremont said.

“We still represent, currently, additional people,” he said.

List of abusers

The Diocese of Bridgeport itself now maintains a “list of credibly accused diocesan priests” that includes priests’ names, their diocesan assignments and ministries, and the dates they were removed from ministry.

In addition to Morrissey, among the 29 names on the list are two other priests who served in Ridgefield: former St. Mary’s Pastor Charles Stubbs, who was laicized — removed from the priesthood — in 2004; and Albert McGoldrick, who served at St. Mary’s in Ridgefield and also at Sacred Heart in Georgetown, and was laicized in 2005.

The list is accessible on the Diocese of Bridgeport website (bridgeportdiocese.org) by going to “Offices/Departments” and scrolling down to “safe environments” and clicking on “Accused Clerics” in the listing just below the picture at the top of the page.

Attorney Doug Mahoney said in the statement from Tremont Sheldon that one of the accomplishments of the continuing litigation was improved access to Diocese records.

“After many arguments and countless negotiations, the court ordered the Diocese to perform an exhaustive search of its archives to identify records of sexual abuse of children in the Diocese of Bridgeport,” Mahoney said. “Now that those records have been collected, it is our hope that the Diocese will be in a better position to respond to victims who come forward in the future.”

‘Safe environment’ policies

Brian Wallace, communications director of the Diocese of Bridgeport, told The Press that the church had responded to the abuse problems over the years with serious, continuing efforts to keep children safe.

“In terms of what we would certainly want people to realize, we’re talking about cases that are over 30 years old,” he said of the five settlements.

“We have done tremendous work over the last 15 years through the Diocese safe environment policies. These policies are in place to protect young people in our parishes, in our schools, anywhere people gather in the diocese, and they’re among the most strict and successful in the nation.”

He also said the Diocese of Bridgeport had been found compliant with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by an audit performed by StoneBridge Business Partners of Rochester, N.Y., a national financial auditing firm specially trained to review diocesan compliance with revised church standards adopted in response to what has been a nationwide sexual abuse scandal.

Tremont, the attorney, said improving how the church handles such cases was a goal of the decades of litigation that dates back to when his father, Paul Tremont, led the firm.

“From a personal point of view, I hope we’ve made changes,” Tremont said.

“That’s why a lot of victims come forward, to make sure it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

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