Archbishop: Middlesex County clergy part of 'scourge of sexual abuse of minors'

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MIDDLETOWN — A dozen area priests who once served in the Norwich Diocese were named as investigated for “allegations of substance,” in connection with a “scourge of sexual abuse of minors by clergy,” according to a statement released Sunday by Archbishop Michael Cote.

In all, 43 priests in the district, which encompasses the eastern part of Connecticut, are accused. The Hartford Courant reported this Sunday. Several of the priests worked for parishes in Middlesex County. However, claims were not filed pertaining to their time working in these towns.

“There is currently no priest or deacon in active ministry with an allegation of substance of sexual abuse of a minor,” Cote said in his letter.

Cote pledged a “commitment to restore trust and faith and ensure a safe environment in our churches, schools, and other institutions. The Diocese of Norwich is committed to protecting children and young people so that the tragedy of sexual abuse does not occur,” he said in a press release Monday.

“I am grievously sorry for the horrific sins and crimes made against the most vulnerable among us who have suffered sexual abuse and misconduct. I offer again my deepest and heartfelt apology on behalf of the church to the victims of child abuse and their families suffering painful lifelong consequences.”

The clergy, 2.8 percent of all in the region, were accused since the diocese was established 65 years ago on Aug. 6, 1953, Cote said.

The letter defines the meaning of allegation of substance as:

“An allegation in which the accused has pled guilty or nolo contendere or been prosecuted and found guilty in a civil criminal court of any incident of sexual misconduct of a minor, and/or

“An allegation which has been investigated and has been determined to be reasonable, plausible, probable, and bearing the semblance of truth; and/or

“An allegation corroborated with other evidence or another source, and/or

“An allegation that has been acknowledged or admitted to by the accused.”

The diocese did not provide information about where each person served, but through obituaries and previous articles, The Press has been able to put together this list of clergy the diocese named who have connections to greater Middletown and the Shoreline:

Paul L. Hebert, who served at parishes in Old Saybrook and Clinton. He died in 2010.

Raymond J. Jean, who served at Notre Dame Parish in Durham in 1970. He died in 2001.

Thomas W. Shea, who worked at St. Peter Church in Higganum.

John B. Ramsay, also former pastor of St. Peter Church, Higganum. He died in 1994.

John A. Kozon of Middletown.

Richard T. Buongirno, who was in charge of churches in Cromwell and Middletown.

Rodger Comtois, former pastor of The Parish of Saint Patrick, East Hampton. He died in 1998.

Robert E. Shea, was assistant pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church, Portland. He died in 1995.

Felix Werpechowski, assistant pastor at St. Mary of Czestochowa Catholic Church in Middletown. He died in 1972.

Thomas McConaghy was at St. Colman Church, Middlefield, from 1985 to 1990.

Salvatore L. Busca of Middletown died in 2006.

In New Haven County, Louis Paturzo worked at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hamden.

Click here to see the full list of clergy with allegations.

Since 1953, the clergy who served in the Diocese of Norwich or were present in the diocese for a temporary ministry assignment include bishops, 1,422 priests (351 diocesan priests incardinated in Norwich, 914 religious order priests, 134 priests from another diocese working in Norwich, and 23 who had residence or a temporary ministry in the diocese), as well as 114 deacons, Cote said.

The list includes the names of priests who have died, were dismissed from the “clerical state,” and those removed from all ministry, he added.

In all, 22 were incardinated in the Diocese of Norwich, seven were members of religious orders, two from another diocese, but working for Norwich, and 12 priests who served or resided in the diocese, but who had allegations brought forward elsewhere from outside the diocese.

Costs associated with the settling of cases of minor abuse, from July 1, 1977, to Jan. 31, 2019, are $7.7 million.

Of those, $4.9 million was for insurance reimbursement, $1 million through the diocesan general fund, and $1.8 million in payments made by others (such as religious orders, individuals accused, other dioceses), according to the report.

“No donor restricted funds, bequests, or contributions designated for a special purpose, such as the Annual Catholic Appeal, were used.”

Among the parishes Hebert served in were Old Saybrook and Clinton. The specific churches are not listed. Hebert was removed from ministry in 2004. “Hebert denies the unspecified allegations, made by an unnamed male to the diocese and purported to have taken place 30 years ago,” according to

Thomas W. Shea was at St. Peter Church in Higganum for a short period of time and was removed in 1974, after parents there complained of his habit of kissing and hugging their two daughters, ages 8 and 10,” according to Bishop Accountability.

On the eve of a civil trial, the diocese paid a woman $1.1 million to settle a suit that alleged she was sexually assaulted more than 60 times by Shea, according to the Courant.

The 49-year-old woman was to testify that Shea, a family friend, started molesting her when she was 3, and the assaults continued into adulthood. Shea was ordered to keep away from children in the parish school. Girls at St. Joseph’s Church of New London said Shea liked to take photos of them in their bathing suits, the Courant reported.

Ramsay served at St. Peter Church in Higganum starting in June 1970, as well as Mary Mother of the Redeemer in Higganum. He died before the single claim against him was received, according to the Catholic News.

According to a story in the June 1976 Catholic Transcript, Kozon was “of Middletown,” but the parish he worked in was not detailed.

Buongirno worked at churches in Cromwell and Middletown, as well as at Xavier High School. He settled a suit for $700,000 with a man who claimed he was abused as a child, the Courant reported. The victim said he was abused in 1991 at the rectory of an East Lyme church, then again years later during a cross-country road trip to celebrate his graduation from Xavier, the article said.

Comtois was former pastor of The Parish of Saint Patrick in East Hampton.

Robert E. Shea was assistant priest at St. Mary, Portland. He died before any claims against him were received, according to the Courant.

Werpechowski was assistant pastor at St. Mary Church, Middletown. He died before any claims against him were received, the Courant said. He was the first Polish native young man to follow the calling of the priesthood from Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church of Wallingford, his obit said.

In 2005, McConaghy resigned from ministry after being accused of sexually abusing a male student from approximately 1973 to 1975, according to Bishop Accountability.

Busca was from Middletown, but his obituary does not list which parish he presided over. “He will be most remembered for his very gentle spirit and keen sense of humor,” according to his obit.

Louis Paturzo “was a well-known activist priest who worked with the city’s troubled youth until the first accusations against him surfaced in 2002,” according to the Courant.

“According the lawsuit, Paturzo first molested the victim in late 1976 and the abuse continued through August 1978. ... Two men who accused Paturzo in 2002 said he fondled them in the early 1970s, when he was working as a deacon but had not yet been ordained. Paturzo, who admitted to the claims made by the two men, was stripped of his priestly faculties by the archdiocese,” the Courant story said.

Cote acknowledged in his Feb. 7 letter the release of charges against all the priests will be painful for the victims, as well as families of the accused, friends and parishioners.

“It is my hope and prayer that this effort to let the light shine on this dark chapter in the life of the church will bring some measure of peace, healing, and acknowledgment to those who have been directly harmed and to all members of our faith community,” Cote said.

Editor's note: One name of a priest who was on the original list from the diocese has been removed from this story after the diocese said his name had been added to the list in error and that he was never under investigation for any alleged abuse.