The Archbishop's Tale

Egan’s Bridgeport Record Offers Little Hope to Catholic Progressives 

Egan is 68 and must submit his retirement to the pope in just seven years. As he tries to make his mark, he may be slowed not so much by progressive forces in the church as by a sex abuse scandal in Bridgeport and the determination of the plaintiffs and an ultraconservative Catholic group to make him pay for it.

The bishop plays hardball in these cases, having gone so far as to plead in 1997 that he is "self-employed" and not responsible for his priests, who are also "self-employed." Church law clearly states "priests can exercise their ministry only in dependence on the bishop." Charles Bell, religion editor of the Daily News, wrote then that the defense "is raising a lot of eyebrows," but he didn't question Egan about it at the press conference. The diocese was found liable for close to $800,000 in that case and had the judgment vacated on a technicality, but settled for an undisclosed sum rather than face another trial.

The Bridgeport law firm Tremont and Sheldon represents 20 plaintiffs with abuse cases against diocesan priests, one of whom was alleged to have engaged in abuse from the time Egan became bishop in 1988. "He is the defendant in one case and a witness in every other case," says attorney Jason Tremont, who notes that in some of the cases priests with records of molestation were transferred to new parishes without any word to the new pastor. Father Martin Federici is accused of incidents dating back to 1971, including one in 1983 where he allegedly abused a boy in a confessional. Yet he was still serving as late as 1993—under Egan—when he is alleged to have abused yet another boy.

At the time, Tremont wanted to share more details, but the diocese obtained a gag order. Tom Drohan, a spokesman for Egan, says that this was to protect "nonparty priests" named in the files. He says the law firm was on a "fishing expedition" that "violates individuals' rights."

Also on Egan's case is Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF), a group "fed up with the abuse of authority" in the church that cites the Bridgeport lawsuits on its Web site (www.rcf.org). Stephen Brady of RCF says, "In so many cases, bishops treat the victims of sexual abuse as the enemy—shun them and don't act Christian at all." He wants Egan to recognize that "the buck stops [with the bishop]" on abuse cases. "We're tired of looking like fools to the Protestants," he says.

Egan was successful in boosting vocations in Bridgeport, establishing a pre-seminary—where young men can explore their vocations—but one source says that he succeeded because "they're not too picky" about whom they let in.

Egan bragged at his press conference that his business card has his name on one side and the address of the pre-seminary on the other. "I pass these out with gay abandon," he said without a trace of irony.

A priest colleague of Egan's is said to have started screaming when he heard that the bishop had been named to the New York post. "He is far worse [than other right-wing bishops] because he is intelligent and well-spoken," he said, noting that Egan's nickname at the seminary was "The Climber." He has now climbed into the most visible position in the American church. How far he will go to promote the extreme agenda of the Catholic Alliance remains to be seen.

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