Documents, Including Letter To Ratzinger, Sought In Priest Sex Abuse Lawsuit

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May 18, 2010 


Attorneys for the Diocese of Norwich are trying to keep secret hundreds of documents — including a letter written to the pope when he was a cardinal — that discussed the status of a priest accused of molesting more than a dozen young girls.

The letter from Bishop Michael Cote to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in April 2005 concerned “canonical processes” regarding Thomas W. Shea, a retired priest accused of molesting as many as 16 girls at 11 different parishes during a nearly 40-year career, according to court records.

The letter is one of more than 600 documents that the diocese is trying to keep secret in a lawsuit pending in Superior Court in Hartford that alleges that Shea sexually molested a 12-year-old girl, identified as Jane Doe, while he was at St. Joseph’s Church in New London in 1976.

The list of documents is included in a motion filed by New London Attorney Robert Reardon, who is representing Jane Doe. Reardon wants Judge Mitchell K. Berger to look at all the documents, including the letter to the pope, to see if they should be turned over to him.

Court records do not show whether Ratzinger ever responded to Cote’s concerns. Shea died in 2006 in a West Hartford nursing home, still a priest in good standing.

Diocese of Norwich spokesman Michael Strammiello said Monday that he had “no idea” what the bishop could have written in a note that is now 5 years old.

“This is a confidential matter and it will have to be addressed in court,” Strammiello said.

As a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI headed the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which is the office that decides whether accused priests should get church trials called canonical trials that could eventually lead to their being defrocked. He was in that post from 1981 to 2005.

The pope has come under criticism recently for a similar case in Wisconsin, in which a bishop there sent him a letter seeking to have a priest accused of molesting deaf children defrocked. But a church trial never occurred after the accused priest wrote a letter to Ratzinger asking him not to go forward with the trial.

The documents in Wisconsin were unsealed by a judge despite efforts by the diocese there to keep them secret.

Doe was 12-years-old when she first met Shea, who was a priest at St. Joseph’s Church in New London in 1976, the lawsuit says

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