BRIDGEPORT—Retired Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg, who is leading an independent investigation into the handling of the abuse crisis by the Diocese of Bridgeport, spoke to the presbyterate of the Diocese of Bridgeport at their annual fall meeting this afternoon at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Weston.
Although the Clerical Sexual Abuse Accountability Report is not yet complete, the judge discussed the methodology, policies and procedures, and provided a verbal overview of the topics covered by the report, which has been a year in the making.
More than 200 priests throughout the diocese attended the talk that was followed by questions and answers. The judge will also meet with members of the diocesan survivors/victim group this evening to share the same outline.
The bishop told priests that the release of the report will be a “watershed moment” in the life of the Church and an opportunity to move forward because of its “full transparency and objectivity” in accounting for the sexual abuse crisis.
The final written report along with its findings and recommendations is expected to be released at the end of September by Judge Holzberg. It will be published in its entirety online on the diocesan website (www.bridgeportdiocese.com), and a summary of the extensive document will be provided in the October issue of Fairfield County Catholic.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano who commissioned the report in October 2018 in response to the abuse crisis, said he felt it was important that the priests of the diocese receive a report summary that will help them to prepare for questions and respond to the concerns of parishioners.
“The abuse crisis has wounded the entire Church, first and foremost the victims and their families but in a larger sense all those affected by the abuse. That includes our many good and faithful priests,” said Bishop Caggiano.
The report was originally expected to be released in the spring of 2019 but the large volume of records and scope of interviews required more time.
It will offer a complete and comprehensive accounting of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Diocese of Bridgeport, along with the response of diocesan leadership since the inception of the diocese in 1953.
Judge Holzberg provided Bishop Caggiano with a preliminary update on the investigation in a February 19, 2019 letter in which he commented on the significant undertaking and noted, “the full and enthusiastic cooperation we have received from the leadership and staff of the diocese.”
At that time the judge wrote that “the scope of our undertaking is extensive, involving review of thousands of files, hundreds of thousands of individual documents, inspection of offsite locations such as parish offices and files, the capture and review of electronically stored information, interviews with key participants, review and analysis of past and current sexual abuse and reporting policies and upon completion of the data-gathering portion of the process, reviewing, analyzing, synthesizing and reporting out our findings and conclusions.”
The initial four months of his investigation focused on data collection including meetings and interviews with Bishop Caggiano and the diocesan leadership team, other key diocesan officials and inspections of the diocesan headquarters and file storage areas.
Meetings were held with current and former counsel for the diocese as well as counsel for those bringing claims against the diocese. Outreach to victims/survivors of clergy abuse and the members of the diocese, through individual meetings, a dedicated third-party complaint phone line and email address.
Review of archival material at the Catholic Center, included bishop and senior leadership files, legal correspondence, litigation files and previously collected data from court proceedings. All relevant files and computer files were electronically scanned/imaged and electronically analyzed using criteria relevant to the scope of the investigation.
Research for the report also included the capture of electronically stored information on the diocese email system, website, cloud storage system and personal devices.
Following the data collection phase, the investigation entered the review and analysis phase. The judge’s team retained nationally recognized data-analytic experts whose software has the ability to review and analyze in a fraction of the time the massive amount of data, both electronic and paper, that human review would require.
While the diocese awaits the report it has also taken steps of its own by continuing to update its list of credibly accused priests. On November 1, 2018, the diocese issued a financial report on settlement amounts for past claims of clergy sexual abuse of minors from the establishment of the diocese to date. The report included sources from which funds were obtained to settle claims and provide an account of the financial support currently given to any priest who has been accused of sexual abuse of a minor and who is currently on administrative leave or has been laicized.
It has also continued to update its list of credibly accused priests and the names of all priests for whom settlements were paid. In a letter published on March 22, 2019, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano provides information on the reorganization and addition of new names to the diocesan list of credibly accused clergy and a complete list of clergy on whose behalf settlements have been paid.
The diocese has published information on its website regarding credibly accused clergy dating back to 2002. In October 2015, the diocese organized this information into a single list of credibly accused priests on its website, which it has continued to update as new information becomes available.
“I believe that the Church is facing a moment of crisis that demands honesty and repentance from the bishops and decisive action to ensure that these failures will never happen again,” Bishop Caggiano said. “My hope is that the judge’s report will begin to heal the wounds that we feel and address the legitimate desire for real change that restores confidence in every level of leadership,” he said.
(To learn more about the diocesan response to sexual abuse including an updated list of credibly accused and financial settlements, please visit the Diocese of Bridgeport’s Pledge to Protect website.)