Church Investigated An Accuser
Private Detective Reported To Vicar About Priest's Alleged Victim
By JACK DOLAN, DAVE ALTIMARI And ERIC RICH
Courant Staff Writers
March 22 2002
Although the Roman Catholic Church did little to investigate priests
accused of sex abuse in the Bridgeport diocese, in at least one case
a private detective dug into the personal life of an alleged victim
and reported his findings to then-Bishop Edward M. Egan's top aide,
sealed court documents show.
Church officials pursued the 1992 investigation of the accuser - a
tactic said by critics to be common in such cases - even though they
knew that the accused priest, the Rev. Laurence Brett, had faced
other sex complaints and had admitted to biting a teenager during
oral sex in 1964. The latest accuser, a New Mexico man, said that
Brett had sought oral and anal sex in his rectory bedroom.
A private investigator was retained by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to
look for incriminating information on the man, who alleged that he
was sexually abused as a child by Brett in that diocese during the
late 1960s, according to the documents. The Bridgeport diocese had
sent Brett to New Mexico for psychological treatment after the
earlier biting incident.
After digging into the man's background, the private detective
reported to diocese officials in Bridgeport and Santa Fe that he had
no criminal record, but that he had reported an "unusual number of
burglaries" to police in the preceding years, the documents show.
By contrast, there is nothing in the court records to indicate that
the church applied similarly aggressive scrutiny to Brett's
activities. In response to the accusation, Brett was summoned to
Bridgeport in November 1992, where he told Egan's aide, Monsignor
Laurence Bronkiewicz, that "he does not remember the name of the
alleged victim," according to Bronkiewicz's written account of the
Egan allowed Brett to continue working as a priest until February
1993, when he suspended him after yet another complaint was made,
this time that Brett had molested a boy in California in the 1960s.
Details of the church's inquiry into the background of Brett's
accuser emerged during pretrial testimony that Egan gave in 1997 for
lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by other priests from the
Bridgeport diocese. His closed-door testimony remained sealed after
the cases were settled last year, shortly after Egan was elevated to
cardinal and archbishop of the New York Archdiocese.
A transcript of Egan's testimony, along with thousands of pages of
other sealed documents from those cases, was obtained recently by The
The document shows that the investigation began after the alleged
victim told priests in Santa Fe that, as a boy of 10 or 12 in the
1960s, he was propositioned by Brett for sex in Brett's bedroom at
the parish rectory. A memo describing the accuser's complaint,
written by Chancellor Rev. Ron Wolf of the Santa Fe Archdiocese, said
that an unspecified "sexual act" occurred, and that Brett told the
boy "that no person would believe the incident took place."
Wolf notified Bridgeport because Brett, although effectively banished
from ministering in Connecticut after admitting to the biting
incident in 1964, still worked as a priest under the auspices of the
Bridgeport diocese. Brett had been sent to a treatment facility in
New Mexico for therapy, but when he was finished, he was assigned to
a church in that state instead of returning to Connecticut.
In a telephone conversation arranged by Wolf on Nov. 6, 1992, the
investigator reported his findings to Bronkiewicz, who as vicar for
religious and clergy, was Egan's top deputy in Bridgeport. After the
conversation, Bronkiewicz wrote a memo to the Bridgeport diocese's
file on Brett that included the following information:
"[The alleged victim], according to the Archdiocese investigator, has
no arrest record; however, between the years 1988 and '90, he
reported four burglaries which, according to the investigator, is an
unusual number of burglaries over a four year period."
Bronkiewicz also wrote to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where Brett
had been working since the 1970s, alerting them to the new
allegation, and pledging that church officials in Bridgeport and
Santa Fe intended to "investigate this matter thoroughly."
"At the present time, we have no reason to believe that the accuser
of Father Brett intends to take legal action of any kind, and there
has been no publicity concerning the accusation," he wrote.
Under questioning by plaintiffs' attorneys in 1997, Egan acknowledged
that he had been apprised of the accusation against Brett. He
hastened to point out that he had not written the memo referring to
the private investigator.
It is not clear from the deposition whether Egan knew about the
investigation into the accuser's personal history, nor was he asked
his opinion of it. A lawyer for the plaintiffs did ask Egan why it
was important that there was "no publicity" of the allegation against
"... I think it is important that there is no publicity, negative,
for the person that's accusing or for the accused," Egan said. "It's
always good not to have publicity until things are established."
At another point in the questioning, the lawyer asked Egan why, given
his concern about negative publicity for the alleged victim, the
Bridgeport diocese during his tenure would distribute the names of
accusers in a press release upon receiving notice of a lawsuit.
Egan said he couldn't remember any specific policy about revealing
the names of victims who sued, but said that an accuser who brought
his case to court was voluntarily making his name public, so there
was no point in the church's trying to keep it secret.
The Archdiocese of New York has referred all inquiries about the
Bridgeport sex abuse cases to the Bridgeport diocese, which said
Thursday that it would not comment on issues that came to light
during past litigation. Egan issued a statement Tuesday defending his
handling of complaints against Brett and other priests in Bridgeport.
Stephen Tinkler, a Santa Fe attorney who has represented more than
150 victims in lawsuits against the Archdiocese in New Mexico, said
it was standard practice for the church to hire a private
investigator to investigate the backgrounds of accusers.
"They fought tooth and nail against these claims until they realized
it wasn't working and then they settled," Tinkler said.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe nearly went bankrupt paying out more than
$50 million to settle 165 abuse claims in the 1990s. Officials from
the archdiocese did not return telephone calls requesting comment for
Phil Saviano, head of the New England chapter of SNAP - Survivors
Network of Those Abused by Priests - said he wasn't surprised to hear
that the church would hire private investigators.
"If they can intimidate victims or their families and get them to
back down and not file a lawsuit, then they have helped the priest,"
Saviano said. "They attack these cases as if they are trying to
protect a corporation's assets and they'll do whatever they can to do
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
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