The Investigation, Which Began in Late 2019, Is Suddenly Called Off Mere Days after Norwich Diocese Files For Bankruptcy
On July 31, 2021, the Diocese of Norwich announced that it had abruptly ended a nearly two-year long “independent” audit and investigation into the Diocese’s handling of sexual abuse allegations since its formation in 1953. Bishop Michael Cote previously told media and parishioners that he ordered the investigation as a means of healing the deep wounds of clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese, and of learning the lessons that could prevent it from happening again.
When we at Horowitz Law first heard about the Diocese of Norwich’s investigation, we hoped for the best. Bishop Cote said all of the right things, using words like “accountability” and “transparency.” We hoped the Norwich Diocese realized it was time to end its strategy of death by a thousand paper cuts, and to lay itself bare and accept its penance for what had happened to so many innocent children entrusted to the care of its clergy. Our firm has already identified 58 priests and clergy who have been accused of sexually abusing kids in the Norwich Diocese, more than even the Diocese of Norwich itself has disclosed.
But we knew better. After all, the timing of Bishop Cote’s announcement was random, to say the least, coming more than a year after the investigation apparently began, and at a time when the news was sandwiched between presidential election coverage and COVID headlines. Thanks to COVID, no one was allowed to attend mass in person to hear his letter being read. It all seemed too strategic, as if the Bishop hoped no one would notice his announcement and public pledges to truth… as if he knew it was nothing more than an empty promise in a year that had been full of so many other losses and disappointments.
The Bishop’s promise said a team of independent investigators, led by a respected former judge, were conducting a “comprehensive analysis and review of claims of clerical sexual abuse of minors, the Diocese’s knowledge of such abuse and its response to allegations and information presented to it concerning the alleged clergy abuse.” He also said investigators had been given “complete and unrestricted access to all Diocesan files, records, and archives dating from the establishment of the Diocese in 1953 to the present along with the opportunity to interview Diocesan clergy and administrators with information relevant to the investigation.”
Cote was applauded by some for his commitment to transparency and openness. He promised the results of the investigation would be presented in a public report addressing the sexual abuse of minors by diocesan clergy as well as the response of Church leadership to that abuse. It would name abusers who had not yet been named publicly. It would catalog the Diocese’s reactions and coverups “back then,” a phrase often uttered by bishops across the United States as if the passage of time should excuse what they did.
Then, after the November 2020 announcement, the cracks began to show. They usually do. The investigators made no commitments to speaking with abuse victims who had previously reported their abuse. “It depends,” they said, on how many calls they received on a new hotline where victims could call and rip open their wounds to report their abuse again. Even then, the investigators might still decide not to talk to any of them.
Almost nine months to the day after Bishop Cote and the Diocese of Norwich announced the investigation and made public promises of transparency, and well before any reports or findings have ever been made public, Bishop Cote said ‘no more.’ The investigation is all over as randomly as it came to be known. No more transparency, no more truth, no more healing. The secrets will remain secret.
The priority for the Diocese now? Protecting its assets. On July 15, 2021, the Diocese of Norwich quietly filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing the number of sex abuse claims filed against it. Unlike in a traditional lawsuit filed by a survivor of sexual abuse against the Diocese, the Diocese’s priest personnel files will not likely be turned over to anyone for review. Unlike in many states, the Connecticut Attorney General has no authority to conduct an investigation into any of the state’s three Catholic Dioceses. The files where the abuse reports are kept will probably never be seen by anyone outside of the Diocese’s inner sanctum now. They will remain buried in the Diocese’s archives and away from the eyes of the general public. After the bankruptcy filing deadline, no one can ever sue the Diocese for past abuse ever again. No one will ever know what they did. That’s what they want. To keep their money and their secrets.
But we all know what they did. So now we lawyers get our metaphorical shovels and start digging for those secrets as best as we can. Our clients deserve that, even if the Diocese doesn’t think so.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Norwich in Connecticut. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in Connecticut, contact our office today. In July 2021, the Camden Diocese filed for federal bankruptcy protection. The Court will resolve all claims of sexual abuse in this process but strict filing deadlines will apply and no late claims will be considered, so contact us today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse in Connecticut and nationwide. We can help.