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A Connecticut Catholic diocese faces a lawsuit over sexual abuse by a former priest, who raped a 9-year old alter boy at his own sister’s wedding, alleging the diocese knew the priest was a danger to children, but failed to remove him from the ministry in a timely manner.
The complaint was filed in Connecticut Superior Court, naming the Diocese of Bridgeport and Kiernan Ahern, a deceased former priest who was a member of the Franciscan order, as defendants.
Ahearn worked as a parochial vicar at St. Mary Church in Bethel, Connecticut from 1991 to 1993, and was charged in 1993 with contributing to the delinquency of a minor after being caught with a 16-year-old boy in a Massachusetts motel. He received two years of probation and died in 1997. However, the lawsuit indicates he spent several years assaulting an altar boy at the church, resulting in one sexual assault in 1992 that occurred at the wedding of the boy’s sister.
According to allegations raised in the sexual assault lawsuit filed against the Catholic Church, the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut knew or should have known about the problems and should not have provided Ahearn access to vulnerable children.
On January 27, the diocese issued a statement indicating it has not yet been formally notified of the lawsuit, but is “deeply disturbed” by the allegations. However, the diocese maintains that it was unaware of problems with Ahearn until the 1993 arrest.
“Until the incident leading to his arrest in 1993, the diocese was unaware of any other allegations concerning Kieran Ahern related to minors,” according to the statement. “He was promptly removed from ministry at that time.”
The diocese indicates it will work with survivors of sexual abuse and their families to work toward “healing and justice.” Ahearn is included on the diocese’s list of “Credibly Accused Clergy.”
Under Connecticut law, survivors have 30 years after they turn 18 to file a childhood sexual assault lawsuit against either attackers or organizations that allowed the abuse to occur.
Amid growing recognition that large institutions like the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and other entities covered up known instances of abuse for decades and actively worked to prevent individuals from presenting claims, New York, New Jersey, California and a number of other states have gone further, and enacted legislation that opens windows in the child sex abuse statute of limitations, allowing individuals to present claims during a specific period of time, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.