HARTFORD, Conn. -- A scathing report released Tuesday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport on the alleged sexual abuse of hundreds of victims by clergy since the early 1950s blames former Bishops Edward Egan and Walter Curtis for violating state law and failing to respond to "an unfolding crisis."
Despite hundreds of victims, church leaders knew of abuse since 1953 and were more concerned about protecting assets and avoiding "scandalous news articles" than protecting children and removing priests, the report found. The report, compiled by former state Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg, stated that Egan took a "dismissive, uncaring, and at times threatening attitude toward survivors."
"Bishops Curtis and Egan failed even to acknowledge, let alone comply with, their legal obligations arising from the 1971 state law mandating that priests report allegations of child sexual abuse," the report states. Egan's behavior "was profoundly unsympathetic, inadequate, and inflammatory."
The report states that nearly 300 people were allegedly abused by approximately 71 priests. A small number of priests were responsible for much of the abuse. Holzberg said investigators have not identified any reports of abuse since 2008. Investigators interviewed more than 50 witnesses, survivors of clergy sexual abuse, current and former bishops, priests, lawyers and others.
"The abuse ranged from lewd behavior in front of victims to violent assaults," the report states. "It had many profound effects on the victims over and above the sexual abuse itself, including long-term mental health problems, fear of retaliation after the fact, and estrangement from their families and from their religious faith."
"Until the early 2000s, the collective response of diocesan officials to the sexual abuse crisis was inadequate in nearly every way, but the single gravest moral and legal lapse was the consistent practice of Bishops Lawrence Shehan, Walter Curtis, and Edward Egan -- over four decades -- of leaving abusive priests in service, and thereby making it possible for them to continue committing abusive acts."
Egan, who later was named a cardinal and became archbishop of New York, died in 2015. Curtis, who was the founder of Sacred Heart University, died in 1997.
The list of accused priests worked at parishes throughout Fairfield County, from Bridgeport to Greenwich.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano told the press conference that the diocese has a "zero tolerance" for abuse. "We are committed to ensure that this grave crime and grave sin will never again happen in our midst," he said.
"The church has been changed perhaps for the rest of our lifetimes ... it is a wound that will take a very long time to fully heal," Caggiano said. "My heart goes out to all those who were harmed and victimized.