January 11, 2005

Diocese facing new abuse suit

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— Richard Chesnis, of 90 Canterbury St., has filed a civil suit in Worcester Superior Court in connection with the alleged sexual abuse of his son during the 1980s by the Rev. John J. Szantyr of Waterbury, Conn.

He named as defendants Bishops Bernard J. Flanagan, Timothy J. Harrington and Daniel P. Reilly of the Diocese of Worcester; Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston; District Attorney John J. Conte, Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish and St. Mary School of Worcester.

“We categorically deny the allegations in the lawsuit,” James Gavin Reardon Jr., lawyer for the Diocese of Worcester, said, adding that the allegations are not based in “reality.” Mr. Chesnis has a “deep anger” toward the Catholic Church in general because of the alleged abuse, Mr. Reardon said, and the Worcester diocese took action 15 years ago when it removed Rev. Szantyr’s ability to function as a priest. He noted that Mr. Conte is prosecuting Rev. Szantyr on criminal charges.

Mr. Conte brought four criminal charges of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 against Rev. Szantyr in connection with the alleged abuse, and the case is pending before Worcester Central District Court. A mental competency hearing on Rev. Szantyr is scheduled here Feb. 17. Rev. Szantyr told the Waterbury Republican-American last week that he has Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Chesnis was able to attest to indigency when he filed the suit on Jan. 3, and the court waived the customary filing fee. Mr. Chesnis is proceeding without a lawyer. The alleged victim has asked that his name not be used publicly.

Mr. Chesnis said in his lawsuit that his son was sexually abused by Rev. Szantyr when he was an altar boy at Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish. He alleges that the priest threatened to “kill both parents if my son told us about Rev. Szantyr’s attacks.” He said his son had loss of self-esteem and loss of attention in school that resulted in poor grades. The alleged abuse occurred in 1986 and 1987, according to court records.

Mr. Chesnis alleged that the defendants failed to properly act in this case and in other cases of alleged clergy sexual abuse that gave the priests a chance to abuse more children. He said their failure to act also caused problems for the victims and family members, including himself.

According to court documents, Rev. Szantyr was assigned to St. Mary School and was accepted as a priest at Our Lady of Czechochowa, which operates the school, under condition “that he would be watched.” Mr. Chesnis said in the suit there was a prior incident with children at his previous placement, and he was “given a second chance” in Worcester. Rev. Szantyr, 73, was never incardinated into the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, and was a member of the Marian Order of the Immaculate Conception. He previously was assigned to Our Lady Immaculate Parish in Athol.

This is the seventh new civil suit alleging clergy sexual abuse filed with the court in the last two weeks. Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso filed six civil suits, naming six priests of the Worcester diocese, during the last week of December. Mr. Chesnis was recently cleared in Central District Court of a charge that he violated a city ordinance by blasting a bullhorn too loudly outside St. Paul Cathedral during the installation ceremony for Bishop Robert J. McManus last May.

Posted by kshaw at January 11, 2005 07:19 AM