Reports that an accountant and a priest at a Catholic parish in Connecticut were mistreated and threatened by the Diocese of Bridgeport are being rejected by the diocese as “inaccurate” and “untrue.”
Headlines about a lawsuit related to the fallout from a financial scandal in the diocese read, “Conn. priest: Bishop wanted to send me to the nuns” and “Whistleblower priest claims bishop threatened him.” The priest in question, Fr. Michael Madden, was serving alongside Fr. Jude Fay, who was later found guilty of embezzling $1 million from the parish.
When contacted by CNA, the diocese said that the “statements by Father Madden regarding his conversation with Bishop William Lori are untrue.”
The media coverage is the result of a lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Bridgeport by the bookkeeper of St. John's Catholic Parish in Darien, Conn.
Although she was not involved in the embezzlement scandal, Bethany D'Erario, the bookkeeper for the parish, is alleging that she was harassed and threatened for exposing the embezzlement.
Mark Sherman, an attorney for D’Erario, said he plans to call Bishop Lori as a witness. He said the Church had treated Fr. Fay better than it treated D’Erario and Madden.
"The only motive Beth and Mike Madden had in blowing the whistle was to stop Father Fay's embezzlement," Sherman said. "As a thank you gift, the church and diocese cut her health benefits, slandered her name and did everything they could to push her out the door."
The Diocese of Bridgeport said in a Tuesday afternoon statement that the comments by Sherman are an attempt to “use inflammatory rhetoric as a substitute for evidence.”
Saying that Ms. D'Erario's claims have “no legal relevance,” the diocese stated that, “The Church did not cut Ms. D'Erario's health benefits, slander her name, or push her out. She maintained the same job title, duties, salary and benefits at all times in 2006. She made the decision to resign on her own, and she acknowledged as much in her resignation letter which she published in the Church Bulletin.”
“At no time did anyone from the Church or the Diocese request or suggest her resignation.”
Instead, the 19-month lag time between when she resigned and when she filed a lawsuit suggests that “her motivation was financial rather than any real claim of wrongdoing or injustice,” the diocese added.
The facet of the D'Erario lawsuit that gained the most attention, however, was the claim by Michael Madden—now a former priest of the diocese—that Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport threatened to send him to a convent when he and D'Erario hired a private investigator to look into the former Fr. Fay's actions.
Madden was asked at a June deposition if church officials told him they were going send him to a “nunnery.”
"Nunnery is probably not the word, but, yes, the bishop was going to pull me out of the parish that day just as I thought and send me to live with nuns," Madden said, according to the deposition, which the Associated Press says was filed Monday in Waterbury Superior Court.
Asked if that was a punishment, Madden said, "It certainly was."
However, the diocese stated on Tuesday that “statements by Father Madden regarding his conversation with Bishop William Lori are untrue. Bishop Lori did not threaten to send Father Madden to a 'nunnery.'"
As for D'Erario, the diocese pointed out that “she also admits that she only hired the private investigator because she was concerned that as the Church's bookkeeper, she might be blamed for some of the financial improprieties.”
“It was the Diocese, not Father Madden or Ms. D'Erario, that reported Father Fay's misconduct to the United States Attorney's Office. The Diocese made that report before Father Madden and Ms. D'Erario's private investigator ever approached the Darien police,” the statement provided to CNA said.