Retired cardinal criticized for abuse comments

February 7, 2012 - 2:35 PM

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan is facing criticism from representatives of clergy sexual abuse victims for a recent interview in which he said he regretted apologizing for the priest abuse scandal in 2002 when he was bishop of Bridgeport.

In the interview with Connecticut Magazine, Egan said "I don't think we did anything wrong" in handling abuse cases. He said he was not obligated to report abuse claims and maintained he inherited the cases from his predecessor and did not have any cases on his watch, according to the magazine.

Clergy in Connecticut have been required to report abuse claims to authorities since the early 1970s, according to attorneys who represented numerous abuse victims.

"Egan never did so and his failure to do so constitutes a violation of the law," said the attorneys, Jason Tremont, Cindy Robinson and Douglas Mahoney.

Telephone messages were left with church officials in New York and Bridgeport.

Egan, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2007, was Bridgeport bishop from 1988 to 2000. The Bridgeport diocese has paid out nearly $38 million to settle abuse claims over the years involving allegations by more than 60 people who said they had been molested by priests.

In court documents unsealed in 2009, Egan expressed skepticism over sexual abuse allegations and said he found it "marvelous" that so few priests had been accused over the years.

In the recent interview, Egan was asked about a letter he wrote to parishioners in 2002 saying "if in hindsight we discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry."

"First of all I should never have said that," Egan responded, according to the magazine. "I did say if we did anything wrong, I'm sorry, but I don't think we did anything wrong."

Egan said in the interview that he sent accused priests to treatment.

"And as a result, not one of them did a thing out of line. Those whom I could prove, I got rid of; those whom I couldn't prove, I didn't. But I had them under control."

Egan also said he was not surprised that "the scandal was going to be fun in the news, not fun but the easiest thing to write about."

As for reporting claims to authorities, he said, "I don't think even now you're obligated to report them in Connecticut."

"I sound very defensive and I don't want to because I'm very proud of how this thing was handled," Egan said.

At another point, Egan said, "I believe the sex abuse thing was incredibly good." Asked if he meant because it resulted in positive changes, he responded, "Good that ... the record, I think, is an excellent record."

Egan's statements describing the scandal as "fun" for the news or "incredibly good" shows he's out of touch, the attorneys said.

"For the cardinal to 'take back' his apology is just another slap in the face of every victim who has endured the physical and emotional upheaval and betrayal of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest," the attorneys said.

The attorneys said their clients included victims who were abused by priests while Egan was Bridgeport bishop. In 1989 and 1993, abuse victims complained to the diocese but no action was taken, they said.

Egan also welcomed a priest back into the diocese in 1990 who had been accused of biting a young male's penis decades earlier, according to the attorneys.

Egan transferred priests subject to complaints and allowed priests with complaints against them to continue to practice, the attorneys said.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests called Egan "obviously unrepentant, self-absorbed and painfully dismissive of the abject suffering of tens of thousands of deeply wounded men, women and children who have been sexually violated by priests, nuns, bishops, brothers, seminarians and other Catholic officials. We can't help but believe that many other prelates feel exactly as he does but are shrewd enough to avoid saying so outside of clerical circles."

SNAP urged other American Catholic officials, especially in New York and Connecticut, to publicly rebuke Egan.