Scandal in Hartford

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Englehart cartoon from the Hartford Courant, 9/24/2012


Englehart cartoon from the Hartford Courant, 9/24/2012

Englehart cartoon from the Hartford Courant, 9/24/2012

Englehart cartoon from the Hartford Courant, 9/24/2012

“Is there something in the drinking water up there?  What the hell is wrong with the MEN representing the Hartford Archdiocese?…I come back to the same image, over and over again, how do these LAWYERS and CHURCH LEADERS stand upright?”

The occasion for this email outburst, from retired Philadelphia police captain Michael Skiendzielewski, was the — on the front page in the Hartford Courant — that the Archdiocese of Hartford is appealing a $1 million judgment in a priest molestation case on the grounds that the case unconstitutionally relies on Connecticut’s extension of its statute of limitation for sexual abuse.

The judgment came in 2012, after a trial in which a jury took just four hours to find the archdiocese negligent and reckless in its supervision of Ivan Ferguson, a priest who, testimony showed, admitted to the late Archbishop John F. Whealon that he abused two boys in a Simsbury rectory in 1979. After Ferguson received treatment for alcoholism, Wealon, at the priest’s request, reassigned him to a school for boys in Derby. There he and a friend repeatedly abused the victim and another boy between 1981 and 1983. Ferguson died in 2002.

In seeking to have the verdict overturned, the archdiocese’s lawyers argued before the state Supreme Court Monday that the victim’s lawsuit was filed unconstitutionally because the statute of limitation prevailing at the time of the abuse had expired. There’s no question that this is a legal mare’s nest.

At the heart of the issue is whether It violates the constitutional prohibition of ex post facto laws and/or due process to allow a civil lawsuit to be filed after the expiration of the original statute of limitation. Since 1795, the ex post facto prohibition in Article I has been interpreted to apply only to criminal laws (with a few exceptions) — the point being that no one should be prosecuted for an act that wasn’t a crime at the time he committed it.

In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition includes extensions in statutes of limitations for criminal acts. Whether it also applies in civil cases and/or represents a violation of the defendant’s due process rights is unclear. The Archdiocese of Hartford stands not only to avert the $1 million pay-out but also to foreclose any number of current and future lawsuits filed after the expiration of a statute of limitation — everywhere in the country, should the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decide in its favor.

I’m in no position to say that the archdiocese might not prevail. But at what cost?

Over the years, Catholic prelates rationalized covering up clergy sex abuse as a way to avoid Scandal — whereby the Church is dragged into disrepute in a way that impairs the spiritual wellbeing of the people in the pews. By now it should be obvious that the cover-up has caused more Scandal than dealing openly with the abuse would ever have done. It should also be obvious that the kind of hardball legal tactics being used by the Hartford archdiocese causes scandal too.

For all I know, the archdiocese’s insurance company demanded that it pursue every possible legal avenue. If so, it should say so. Whatever the case, the spiritual wellbeing of its flock — to say nothing of a decent respect for the opinions of the community — depends on its providing an honest explanation of why it is proceeding the way it is.

  • If Blair wins, all Connecticut kids will be worse off, not just the Catholic ones.

    For 20 years, Catholic officials have claimed they’re doing better in clergy sex cases. If so, why do they fear this extension of the statute of limitations?

    It’s noteworthy that Blair is apparently the only individual, and his archdiocese is apparently the only institution throughout the whole state of Connecticut – that is trying to do this.

  • opheliart

    From the Hartford Courant article:

    “The diocese was first made aware of Ferguson’s abuse by a phone call in 1979. At the time, Ferguson was a teacher at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford.

    At the trial, testimony showed that when former Archbishop John F. Whealon confronted him about the 1979 allegation, Ferguson admitted to the abuse. Ferguson was sent to a treatment facility in Massachusetts. Two years later, Whealon appointed Ferguson priest director of a Derby school.

    Ferguson and his boyfriend were accused of abusing Doe and his childhood friend at, among other places, the rectory to which Ferguson had been reassigned in Derby. At the time of the abuse, from 1981 to 1983, the boys attended the school. Ferguson died in 2002.”


    Hearing the name “Ferguson” is bad enough, but Ferguson and his boyfriend were accused of sexual abuse? This is madness! So much for that chaste, celibate life I keep hearing the Roman Catholics croon about.

    I live in MA.
    My heartmind goes out to the victims and their family. My Spirrealism partner and I have Book One of BROTHER COBWEB completed, and we are now in the next stage—looking for the right publisher. It is a layered work, but addresses the sexual abuse found in religion. We work toward healing.

    Peace and Love.

  • Eugene Pagano

    The constitutional question may not be a mare’s nest. In New York, a statute reviving DES civil claims barred by the old statute of limitations was upheld by the state’s highest court in the Hymowitz decision in 1989. A federal judge upheld a similar revival law for Agent Orange civil claims. The Connecticut Supreme Court may well upheld the statute.

  • drwho13

    Worthless men without a Soul, follow them at your own risk!

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    It is very important to note that the Hartford Archdiocese is being represented by MALE attorneys, highly-paid, to represent and protect the leadership and the institution while the two comments so far are bravely and accurately presented by WOMEN (Sr. Maureen Paul Turlish and Judy Block Jones), two of the strongest and most vocal advocates for CHILDREN who are victims of clergy sexual abuse.

    As a lifelong Catholic, father and grandfather, there is no middle ground here, regardless of the forum, courtroom or Main Street, USA……….one is ether for the children, their protection, their rights, or one is AGAINST our children. All I know is that from my Catholic education and faith, no one could pay this writer enough money to represent the archdiocese and defend their hypocritical and morally indefensible conduct and decision-making.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (retired)
    Philadelphia Police Department

  • Joy

    The only flaw in the 2012 cartoon is that most pedophile priests are normal to good looking. It would have been great if they indeed did stick out like monsters.

    In answer to the question, ‘But at what cost?’

    Dutch bishops told the pope in Rome two years ago that about two-thirds of all Roman Catholic churches in the Netherlands would have to be shut or sold by 2025, and many parishes merged, because congregations and finances were “in a long-term shrinking process.

    How can the younger generation through out the world have any respect for this church?

  • opheliart

    Thank you, Michael, for your honesty and effort in this. It has to be very difficult as a life-long Catholic to see this going on. I agree, THE CHILDREN MUST BE PROTECTED. WE ARE GIVEN THE GIFT OF CHILDREN … AND IT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE EFFORTS TO ENSURE THEIR SAFETY … in all places.

    Peace and Love

  • Kate

    Thank you for your work, Michael.

    The priesthood… Catholicism’s affliction.

    Reform the priesthood.

  • Nanabedokw’môlsem

    Appalling facts. He abused at a school, and after ‘treatment’ was sent to another school.

    Too bad the Bishop in question is deceased … he should somehow have been held accountable, although by the Church doctrine he’s likely pondering his sins in Hell.

  • Gail Howard

    Dear Mr Silk,
    Thank you for your fairness in asking if the church is being pressured by its insurers. I’m sure it is. However If you have ever seen evidence that the church is being forced by insurance companies to abandon its normally deep compassion for victims, and negate its absolute allegiance to the truth, I’d like to see that evidence.

  • Mary

    It is unfortunate that the Catholic church in Hartford continues to cover up abusive priest. They have a few at the Sacred Heart Church who instead of making time in jail for abusing kids, they have being transferred to other states or churches . They are exposing other children to their abuse. Who cares about the children???