SNAP Connecticut


Friends rally behind accused priest

By ROBERT VARLEY
New Haven Register Staff
Published on 05/23/2005

NORTH BRANFORD — Although there are eight civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by the Rev. Daniel McSheffery, the support and appreciation for his 16 years at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church hasn’t dimmed for many current and former parishioners.

Beyond doubting the charges, they regret he’s been taken from his calling and had his reputation ruined.

The priest, who is in his mid-70s, lives in Florida, is not allowed to practice, wear his garments or write theological articles.

"He lost his life. He’s a broken man," said Carol Cornachini, 44, who’s no longer at the parish since McSheffery left in 2002. "He can’t prove his innocence any more than these guys can prove him guilty."

Earlier this year, two men filed sexual abuse lawsuits. One attended St. Augustine’s Church in Hartford when McSheffery was associate pastor there about 35 years ago. The other complaint, filed recently in Superior Court at New Haven, came from a former altar boy at St. Augustine’s in North Branford.

Since 2002, six other men, five from Hartford and one from St. George Roman Catholic Church in Guilford, have alleged sexual abuse by the priest.

"We just can’t believe this is happening," said parishioner Evelyn Mordecai, 77, who called McSheffery a "tremendous asset."

When her late husband, George, battled cancer at Connecticut Hospice, McSheffery provided spiritual guidance.

McSheffery was known for his sermons, which often ended with him quieting applause.

Cornachini said that McSheffery had a way of connecting with people.

To illustrate that God is watching, he once said to the parish, "If people knew their behavior was going to be on the front page of the paper, they would act differently," she recalled.

Not all have been supportive in the wake of the allegations. One woman, who didn’t offer her name, wondered if his name should still be on the North Branford church’s parish center with the suits pending.

"He was a man who wanted to express physical affection but it was in the form of a big smile and one-armed hug, and nothing more," said Bill Johnson, 46, who was McSheffery’s assistant youth minister at St. George. "I believe, perhaps, his honest affection and desire to mentor youth has been misinterpreted or is being exploited by these accusers."

Like McSheffery’s attorney, Hugh F. Keefe, some felt it boiled down to money.

According to a 2004 study, the Archdiocese of Hartford has paid $2.01 million to settle abuse claims dating back about 50 years.

"I’ve rarely talked to a victim in which any amount of money is going to make up for what happened to them," said Landa Mauriello-Vernon, director of the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

With a statute of limitations preventing some from filing criminal charges, she said civil suits are the only recourse for victims seeking accountability and apologies.

"Perpetrators of sexual abuse are not people wearing trench coats lurking around playgrounds," she said. "For parishioners to rally around this man is to unintentionally silence victims in that parish."

She cited larger statistics: For those under 18 years old, one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused.

Sheila Andrus, 40, of Vermont, a former North Branford parishioner, is McSheffery’s niece.

She said her uncle, who put almost 50 years into the priesthood, is still in shock.

"It’s kind of like a kick in the teeth," she said. "You put your whole life toward something and one day it’s gone."

Robert Varley can be reached at rvarley@nhregister.com or 789-5734.

©New Haven Register 2005



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Last Updated: October 26, 2005