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Worcester Bishop Named in More Than 30 Lawsuits

By Associated Press, 3/17/2002

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) The bishop of the Diocese of Worcester has been named in more than 30 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by priests previously under his charge in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Many of the lawsuits in which Bishop Daniel P. Reilly is named allege that the church responded to complaints by reassigning priests to other parishes.

None of the suits suggest that Reilly himself was involved in any sexual misconduct during his tenure as chancellor of the Diocese of Providence, R.I., his 27 years as bishop of the Norwich, Conn. diocese, or his roughly seven years in Worcester.

In an interview with the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Reilly said that during his time in Providence and Norwich, he was not personally involved in the reassignment of priests accused of sexual abuse.

He also pointed to a recently announced no-tolerance policy that will require incidents of suspected child abuse to be reported to the state, and the suspension of two Worcester Diocese priests from active assignments as proof the diocese is taking charges of sexual abuse seriously.

''I think the way we're handling it is pretty good,'' he said. ''We're following the law, we're dealing with the authorities. We're trying to help the victims.''

Reilly is named in at least 28 lawsuits all but one of which are pending alleging abuse by clergy in the Providence diocese. Four clergy sexual abuse suits were filed in Norwich during Reilly's tenure there; two of those have since been dismissed.

One lawsuit pending in Connecticut alleges that diocese officials placed a known sex offender in a parish ministry. The Rev. Richard T. Buongirno is being sued by a man who alleges that the priest abused him in 1990 when he was 9 years old. The plaintiff's lawyer says Buongirno later sexually assaulted two other boys.

Among court documents in the case is a letter from a church official to Reilly, recommending that Buongirno not be placed in a parish ministry.

Reilly said Buongirno was told to undergo treatment after information surfaced about the 1990 assaults, and he was not reassigned to a parish until after Reilly left the diocese. Buongirno has since been removed from the priesthood.

A Norwich Superior Court judge began hearing arguments in the case last week.

Another pending suit against the Norwich diocese was brought by a New Mexico man who alleges sexual abuse by the Rev. Bernard W. Bissonnette.

Bissonnette had been sent for treatment to a Jemez, N.M., facility operated by a religious order called The Servants of the Paraclete, which treats priests who are sexually abusive, suffer from addictions or have other afflictions.

A December 1998 ruling in the New Mexico Court of Appeals found that the New Mexico man could sue the Norwich diocese. The Norwich diocese appealed, and the New Mexico Supreme Court is reviewing the appeal.

Of 28 known lawsuits naming Reilly in Rhode Island, just one was settled, in 1991. The lawsuits name 13 priests, including the Rev. Robert Marcantonio, who was later accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in Iowa.

Marcantonio's accuser in Rhode Island alleges then-Chancellor Reilly was notified by mail in 1970 that the priest had sexually abused more than two dozen boys previously.

After Marcantonio went to Iowa to attend college, Chancellor Reilly wrote to a monsignor in Iowa in 1971 to thank him for hospitality shown to Marcantonio.

Marcantonio earned master's and doctoral degrees in psychology from Iowa State College, then returned to Rhode Island in 1975. Afterward, he was accused of molesting several more boys at a Cumberland, R.I., parish.

''They're all linked together, and they cover a whole period of years, a number of them after I left the diocese,'' Reilly said. ''Others may have gone on while I was there, but I wasn't involved in that sort of thing.

''When that assignment (Cumberland) came, I think I was out of the diocese,'' he added. ''So, that's something that I didn't have any control over.''

Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests