Diocese settles school sex assault claim

The Connecticut Post/August 1, 2006
By Daniel Tepfer

Bridgeport -- The Roman Catholic Diocese on Monday agreed to pay a settlement to a former local man who claimed he was sexually abused by a priest while attending Notre Dame High School in Fairfield in the late 1970s.

The terms of the settlement, negotiated with U.S. Magistrate William I. Garfinkel, were not disclosed.

Lawrence Freeman, who now lives in Washington state, claimed he was abused on numerous occasions by the Rev. James Gildea, who worked as a guidance counselor and tpacher at the Catholic high school. Gildea died in 1986.

Freeman is represented by Cindy Robinson of Tremont and Sheldon.

The diocese lawyer, James Stapleton, acknowledged the settlement but added the diocese is not admitting liability in the case. "These were alleged incidents that occurred 30 years ago by a priest who died 20 years ago. There was nothing in his file at Notre Dame High School or at his religious order of any complaint against him," he said.

However, Stapleton admitted that the diocese secretly settled another claim of abuse by Gildea brought by another former Notre Dame student.

"That person didn't want anything disclosed," he said.

Stapleton also acknowledged that Freeman in 1991 complained to Monsignor Lawrence Bronkiewicz about Gildea allegedly abusing him.

"He may have made a complaint earlier but never followed up on it and by then the priest was dead," he said.

Robinson said she has information of a third victim of abuse by Gildea.

Robinson said as part of the settlement Freeman urged the diocese to notify other former Notre Dame students who could have been victims of abuse by Gildea as the diocese has done in abuse cases involving priests at St. Thomas More School and Fairfield College Preparatory High School.

"So many victims of childhood sexual abuse suffer in silence with overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt, many times they blame themselves," Robinson said. "The diocese needs to reach out to these people in any way it can."

But Stapleton said he doesn't know whether that will be done.

"Obviously it will be in the Connecticut Post," he said.

According to Robinson, Freeman, now 43, was abused by the priest from 1976 to 1979 while Gildea was his Latin teacher and guidance counselor. She said Gildea would take Freeman on overnight trips on the pretext of visiting Gildea's sick mother in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Gildea initiated the abuse under the premise of wrestling with the boy, she said.

When Freeman finally broke away from the priest, Gildea warned him that as his guidance counselor he had control over whether he went to college, Robinson said.

The diocese has paid out nearly $40 million to dozens of people who claimed they were abused as children by 28 priests in the diocese since the 1960s.

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