Documents Sought in Priest Sex Abuse Lawsuit

The Diocese of Norwich is refusing to hand over hundreds of documents in a sex abuse lawsuit involving one of its former priests.

Those documents include a letter written to the pope, when he was still a cardinal, reports The Hartford Courant.

The lawsuit alleges that Thomas Shea sexually molested a 12-year-old girl while he was at St. Joseph's Church in New London in 1976.  The girl's attorney subpoenaed Shea's personnel records and the diocese turned over 405 pages from his file. It refused to turn over another 661 pages it claims are "privileged."

The girl's attorney is now asking a judge to look at all the documents to see if they should be turned over.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Diocese of Norwich concealed the results of an internal investigation that determined that Shea had fondled other young girls and had been sent for treatment, the Courant reports. It claims that church officials were well aware of Shea's behavior, but assigned him to St. Joseph's anyway.

The letter sent to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, concerned "canonical processes" regarding Shea. It was sent in 2005 and court records don't show if Ratzinger ever responded. As a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which decides whether accused priests should get church trials that could eventually lead to their being defrocked.

Shea died in 2006 as a priest in good standing.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Norwich told the Courant he has "no idea" what the bishop could have written in a note that is now five years old.

"This is a confidential matter and it will have to be addressed in court," he said.

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