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Conn. Supreme Court hears appeal from Hartford Diocese on pedophile priest case

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The Connecticut Supreme Court heard arguments this week about a priest who was known to be a pedophile when he was appointed to be the director of a Hartford grade school. The Hartford Archdiocese is appealing a million-dollar verdict that was awarded to a man who says he was abused by that priest as a student in the 1980s.

Attorney John Sitarz represents the Diocese. He told the Supreme Court Justices the Diocese wasn’t allowed to present expert testimony in the trial that would have helped the jury understand what the standard of care for treating pedophilia was during that time period. 

“I mean I think it’s pretty clear now that we take a one-strike-and-you’re-out approach to that particular issue," said Sitarz. "Back then, as you can see from the evidence in the case, they dealt with it differently.”

Sitarz said the Diocese believed at the time that the priest – Rev. Ivan Ferguson - had been successfully rehabilitated.

Hugh Hughes is an attorney for the plaintiff, who’s known as Jacob Doe. Hughes argued that the church should have known the danger of a recurrence was too great to assign him to a school.

“The issue is a straight forward issue that ordinary jurors do not need expert testimony to understand," said Hughes. "There’s no science here. What do you do with a known six-time child molester? That’s not a scientific question.”

The court is also considering a claim by the Diocese that the statute of limitations had expired because the plaintiff did not bring the case within two years of turning eighteen. The plaintiff’s attorney points to an amendment to state law that extended the period in which a claim can be made.

Craig produces sound-rich features and breaking news coverage for WGBH News in Boston. His features have run nationally on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on PRI's The World and Marketplace. Craig has won a number of national and regional awards for his reporting, including two national Edward R. Murrow awards in 2015, the national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award feature reporting in 2011, first place awards in 2012 and 2009 from the national Public Radio News Directors Inc. and second place in 2007 from the national Society of Environmental Journalists. Craig is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Tufts University.