Colchester religious society settles sex abuse case
By Colin Flanders
January 24, 2018
|A lawsuit alleges the society of St. Edmund knew about inappropriate behavior by Charles Many, a former priest, before it moved him to a parish in Connecticut and then Vermont in the 1980s. The society recently settled a lawsuit in Connecticut, agreeing to pay $475,000 toward a total $900,000 payout.
A lawsuit alleges the society of St. Edmund knew about inappropriate behavior by Charles Many, a former priest, before it moved him to a parish in Connecticut and then Vermont in the 1980s. The society recently settled a lawsuit in Connecticut, agreeing to pay $475,000 toward a total $900,000 payout.
The Society of St. Edmund, a Roman Catholic order headquartered in Colchester, will pay $475,000 to settle a Connecticut lawsuit alleging it failed to protect children from a priest with a known history of sexual assault.
The suit claims then-Rev. Charles Many sexually abused a Connecticut boy repeatedly during the late 1970s and early ’80s. Many, an Edmundite, was later transferred to St. Lawrence Church in Essex Jct. A similar accusation surfaced there.
The St. Edmund’s payout is only part of the $900,000 that plaintiff Andrew Aspinwall, 50, will receive as part of the agreement. The Norwich Diocese in Connecticut will foot the remainder, according to Rev. Steven Hornat, the Edmundites’ superior general based in Colchester.
Hornat said he hoped the settlement will bring “some closure and healing” to Aspinwall. Still, he maintains he’s not aware of proof the Edmundites knew of Many’s abuse before his removal in 1986.
“We’re not denying that something happened to Mr. Aspinwall. I certainly think there was an abuse that took place there,” Hornat said. “But those who were in the decision-making, they’re not alive. So there was no way of knowing.”
The settlement contains no admission of guilt, according to Aspinwall’s attorney Kelly Reardon. Many steadfastly denies all the charges against him, Reardon said.
Five others were prepared to testify in public for the first time during the anticipated trial, Reardon said, the group made up of Connecticut victims and parents who say they reported Many’s abuse to church leaders. The settlement came just days before a scheduled jury draw.
Reardon said the abuse started when Aspinwall was an 11-year-old altar boy at the Sacred Heart Church in Groton, Conn. Many had recently become an assistant pastor in that parish as part of an arrangement between the Diocese of Norwich and the Edmundites, Reardon said.
In 1978, Many began taking Aspinwall aside after mass and “engaging in inappropriate behavior,” Reardon said. That included touching, fondling and kissing on an almost weekly basis, during which Many “invoked his pastoral authority” and manipulated Aspinwall into compliance, according to court filings.
“The quicker we can get this over with, the quicker you can go to your mom,” Many told Aspinwall, according to the filing.
The abuse allegedly culminated in fall 1980, when Many took Aspinwall and a friend out for ice cream and then to Enders Island, an Edmundite retreat in Mystic, Conn. Many told the other boy to go take pictures of the island, then led Aspinwall into a dark chapel and raped him, Reardon said.
She said Aspinwall eventually disclosed the abuse to his catechism teacher, who vowed to tell Many’s direct supervisor, another Edmundite priest. Aspinwall said the abuse continued on one other occasion. That time, he ran away. He was removed from the altar boy schedule shortly after, Reardon said.
Six months later, St. Edmund’s transferred Many to the St. Lawrence Church in Essex Jct., where he stayed for five years. In 1994, two other abuse allegations were made public, including one from a St. Lawrence parishioner who said Many molested her son, according to The Day, a Connecticut newspaper.
Edmundite leaders told the Burlington Free Press in 2002 that no one from Connecticut informed them of the allegations prior to Many’s transfer. They said he was quickly removed from parish duties after the accusations in Essex Jct.
But Reardon says she has documents proving other priests knew of Many’s actions even before he came to Connecticut.
Many was stationed in Montreal in the mid-1970s. Reardon said one of his fellow priests planned to testify that Many was given 48 hours to leave Canada because of an “undisclosed issue.”
Reardon also obtained a memo written by the Edmundites’ Canadian regional director claiming he received “general and vague info” that Many was “receiving boys in his room,” a practice one of his fellow priests found “very disturbing.”
“There’s no question they should have investigated,” Reardon said.
Hornat, the superior general, said he’s not aware of that memo and has no idea where Reardon found it. Reardon, meanwhile, said it came directly from the society’s attorney after a request for Many’s personnel file.
Reardon said Aspinwall spoke little of the abuse he’d suffered after confiding in the catechism teacher. He eventually told his husband and, in the early 2000s, began unpacking the trauma with a therapist.
Despite his strong familial support system, Reardon said the abuse has permeated every aspect of Aspinwall’s life. He’s battled anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He has difficulty sleeping and, even as an adult, is afraid of the dark and unexpected noises, she said.
Aspinwall filed a lawsuit against Many, the Diocese of Norwich and the Society of St. Edmund when he turned 47. In Connecticut, victims have 30 years after their 18th birthday to come forward.
Reardon said Aspinwall was traumatized recounting the details of the assaults in court, but was compelled to continue so other victims would be emboldened to do the same. In fact, a different high-profile lawsuit filed against Many is what motivated Aspinwall to revisit his trauma in the first place, she said.
Another Connecticut suit filed by John Waddington in 1996 claimed Many raped him when he was a 14-year-old altar boy at Sacred Heart in 1978, according to reporting by The Day.
Like Aspinwall, Waddington named the Edmundites as co-defendants, but a judge dismissed the society from the case pre-trial, saying there wasn’t enough evidence it was aware of Many’s predatory behavior before he allegedly raped Waddington.
In 2001, a U.S. District Court jury awarded Waddington $850,000 in damages. Yet the judge ordered a new trial weeks later, saying she shouldn’t have allowed testimony about a relationship between Many and a 16-year-old parishioner in Vermont. Waddington chose to not seek a second trial and collected no money, The Day reported.
But he continued to call Vermont police, social service agencies and the attorney general’s office, purchased ads in newspapers and even traveled up to Essex Jct. to hang fliers on cars outside of St. Lawrence during mass, The Day reported.
“People should know. I mean, would you want this guy living next to you and your kids?” Waddington told The Day in 2002. “They don’t know. That would be the best thing for me … to let the people in Vermont know.”
In 2007, nearly three decades after the alleged abuse, Waddington was arrested for trespassing on the St. Michael’s College campus, where he planned to confront the Edmundites.
The Society of St. Edmund is separate from the diocese of Burlington and founded St. Michael’s College. The order’s newest priest, Rev. Michael Carter, was ordained last September at the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel.
In an interview with the Sun later that month, Carter said the order only has about 25 active members. Reardon believes about 100 priests belonged to the group at its height. They are largely based in Colchester, Alabama and Venezuela today.
An ordination for the Society of St. Edmund was last held in 2014. Before that, Carter said the Edmundites went 20 years without a new priest — Rev. Brian Cummings was ordained in 1996 and is now director of college’s campus ministry and of St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte.
Many, now 80, lives in a senior community center in Williston. As part of the recent settlement, he was dropped from the suit.
Many told Reardon in a deposition last August he remembered Aspinwall well, countering with an allegation Aspinwall had actually touched him inappropriately, Reardon said.
Even years later, Many kept a photograph of Aspinwall and his friend at Enders Island, where the alleged rape occurred. Their names and a date are inscribed onto the image, said Reardon, who obtained the Polaroid.
Reardon said Aspinwall is, relatively speaking, one of the fortunate ones. He holds a job as a correctional officer and maintains a healthy 30-year relationship. Reardon said she’s seen clients who can’t have a “normal, functioning existence.”
There are far fewer priest sex abuse cases now than at the height of the scandal more than 10 years ago, Reardon said. Just in her firm, however, there are two similar lawsuits likely forthcoming.
“Eventually, hopefully, they’ll die off altogether,” Reardon said.