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Hartford Catholic Archdiocese defends list of accused clergy despite omission accusations

HARTFORD — In the wake of the renewed scandal of clergy sex abuse at the hands of priests, a local victim’s advocacy group is calling out the Hartford archdiocese for what they call a glaring omission. The group revealed six additional names of Catholic officials who, they say, have been credibility accused of child sex abuse.

But “credibly” is the key word. It can be interpreted differently. Of these six names, two have been convicted in other countries, and at least two are facing lawsuits. They’ve all been publicly accused.

SNAP is the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests identified:

  • Fr. Donal Collins
  • Fr. Cornelius T. “Neil” Otero
  • Fr. Enrique Vasquez
  • Fr. Walter A. Vichas
  • Br. Thomas Sawyer
  • Br. Michael Benedict Taylor

SNAP claims these names were left off the list of 48 names released Tuesday by the Hartford Archdiocese. SNAP obtained the names from a database called “Bishop Accountability.” Gail Howard is the Co-Founder of SNAP’s Connecticut Chapter, “The database has been around since the Boston revelations in 2002,” she said.

She called the allegedly incomplete list by the diocese a slap in the face to the 60 survivors in her network and to those who’s alleged abusers were not named. “What about them?” asked Howard. Now they feel even less validated than ever.

The archdiocese released a video statement Tuesday by Archbishop Blair, but wouldn’t comment beyond the 48 names they released. They did say the list was never meant to be complete. “The publication of names would be updated as any new names became available,” explained Archbishop Leonard Blair.

They hired a retired judge to conduct an independent investigation dating back to 1953. “The archdiocese would contract for an independent review,” said Blair. “Hired and independent. Can’t go together,” responded Howard. But the church is going a step further. Archbishop Blair said, “I’ve also directed our office of safe environment and the protection of children to work with Catholic Charities to organize a support group.” Not good enough — says SNAP. “The Bishop needs to go to every parish and beg people from the pulpit to come forward,” said Howard.

Howard herself is a survivor. “I sealed myself into silence.” She said it took her decades to open up after being attacked during a counseling session at a church in Chicago in 1953. “He lunged at me, pushed me up against the wall, put his hands all over me,” recalled Howard.

Beyond the archdiocese — Howard is calling on the state to investigate. “If the chief state's attorney thinks their aren’t any crimes that he knows of, well, set up a hotline.”

The Hartford Archdiocese declined a request for an interview Wednesday, but did send us a statement in response to SNAPs list. Father James Shanley wrote, “The Archdiocese of Hartford asked SNAP to provide the names they claim have been omitted from our list, but failed to do so. However, the AOH has been able to obtain the names from another source.” When asked why Howard  didn’t send her list to the church, she said they should have their own records.

The whole issue is what you can call a crisis of faith — the dozens of new names of credibly accused child abusers is forcing the Catholic Church is forced to face its demons. “The lingering unsealed wounds of past abuse continue to cry out for further action,” explained Archbishop Blair.

Jim Hickey is a Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church at a janitor at a church in West Hartford. “It doesn’t shake my faith. I think my faith is stronger than a few bad apples,” he said.

But the scandal has rocked the Hartford Archdiocese financially. They’ve paid out nearly $51 million to settle 140 lawsuits. “If these things happen they have to let people know about it. They have to be very transparent about it and take the appropriate action,” said Victor Naleski, a parishioner at the Church of Saint Helena in West Hartford.

The Church of the Holy Spirit in Newington is changing the name of their John O’Connor hall. He’s one of the 48 names.

The scandal is raising broad questions about the foundation of the Catholic faith — like should Priests be able to marry? A question that was asked of the Archbishop during a one-on-one interview from August regarding clergy sex abuse. “I don’t think that marriage necessarily by any means eliminates the possibility of sexual abuse,” said Archbishop Blair.

We asked him, should the church allow gay clergy to be open? “I don’t think that everyone in society should get up and declare whether the are homosexual or heterosexual.”

There was also a time when accused clergy were sent to The Institute of Living in Hartford. Now a division of Hartford Healthcare. “I think the mentality at the time was to send them off to places like the Institute of Living or something like that to try to rehabilitate them and put them back in service,” said Deacon Jim Hickey. Archbishop Blair said, “I understand that there were priests sent to the Institute for Living. But that’s way before my time.” The Institute of Living refused a request for an interview.

The list of accused priests dates back to 1953. None of the accused priests are currently in ministry in Connecticut.

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