Abusive priest's ties to NH raise concerns

New Hampshire Union Leader/December 16, 2009

Manchester - Newly released documents from the Diocese of Bridgeport show that a Connecticut priest accused of molesting children took some of his alleged victims to a vacation home in Washington, N.H., during the 1970s.

Advocacy groups for victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests are now reaching out to the public, asking whether anyone has information about possible crimes committed by the priest while he was in the state.

The documents are part of a civil case against the Diocese of Bridgeport that alleged the Rev. Raymond Pcolka molested boys and girls in churches, his residence in church rectories and his New Hampshire vacation home during the 1960s and '70s.

According to the Diocese of Bridgeport, Pcolka was removed from the ministry in 1993 when the first of 23 alleged victims filed suit against the church. The case was settled in 2001 and a number of details and documents from the case were sealed. A year later, the New York Times and three other newspapers sued to have the files released. The lengthy court battle ended when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case this fall.

According to the Bridgeport Diocese, the documents released on Dec. 1 included personnel records, deposition testimony, medical opinions and other internal church memoranda.

Yesterday, representatives from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest and the New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful held a news conference in front of the Manchester Diocese headquarters on Ash Street, calling on Bishop John McCormack to let people know about Pcolka's connection to New Hampshire.

The groups want the church to post a message on the diocesan Web site and in parish bulletins asking anyone who saw, knew of or were a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of Pcolka to report the act to police. They are also asking the diocese to look for documents it may have on Pcolka and to turn them over to law enforcement.

"Even though he's not a Manchester diocesan priest, he was here in New Hampshire and could have helped out in a parish," said Joanne Barrett from the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests.

"He could be criminally prosecuted," said Carolyn Disco of the New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful. "It's important for survivors to have access to justice."

Both Barrett and Disco said they have no evidence Pcolka abused any local children, but they are trying to get the message out in case he did.

A statement issued yestserday afternoon by the Diocese of Manchester said it reviewed its records and no one named Father Pcolka was ever assigned to serve in the diocese in any capacity. The diocese will also ask parishes to include a message in their bulletins in the next few weeks urging anyone who has been harmed to come forward and seek assistance.

"Through posters in our churches, parish bulletin announcements and our Web site, we encourage those who have been sexually abused as a minor to make a report to law enforcement and to seek assistance through the diocesan Office for Healing and Pastoral Care," the statement said. "As a diocese, we strive to heal the brokenness of victims and to bring justice, rehabilitation, and forgiveness to the perpetrators of acts that were so detrimental to others."

The two victim advocacy groups contacted the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office about Pcolka's connection to the state, as well. Senior Assistant Attorney Will Delker said that as with all clergy sexual abuse claims, the office will take any allegations of abuse seriously.

"As we have with other allegations of sexual abuse by clergy, once we receive a complaint that a victim has been abused, we'll take a look at the allegations and evaluate whether the statute of limitations has expired or whether the case is still prosecutable and then refer that case on to the appropriate local law enforcement agency to investigate," said Delker. "That's the way we've been handling these cases all along, and if we get any allegations in the future we will do the same thing."

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