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Spotlight Report

Accused priest hangs self

Conn. cleric was in treatment unit

By Michael Kranish and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 5/17/2002

Alfred J. Bietighofer
SILVER SPRING, Md. - A Catholic priest from the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese committed suicide at a Catholic psychiatric hospital here yesterday, authorities said, 17 days after he was removed from his parish when several men accused him of molesting them two decades ago.

The Rev. Alfred J. Bietighofer, 64, was found hanged in St. Luke Institute, where he had been sent for evaluation after Bridgeport Bishop William E. Lori removed him on April 29. Bietighofer had been assistant pastor at St. Andrew Church in Bridgeport since last fall.

Bietighofer was the second priest to commit suicide since the priest sex abuse scandal broke in January. On April 4, an Ohio priest facing sexual abuse allegations shot himself to death. On Monday, a priest was shot and seriously wounded in Baltimore, allegedly by a 26-year-old man whose assertion that the priest molested him years ago was rejected by the Baltimore archdiocese.

Bietighofer was found hanging in a dormitory-style room at St. Luke's, a 70-bed facility that has treated many priests who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, including dozens of priests from the Boston archdiocese since the 1980s.

At the hospital, Captain Andrew Ellis of the Prince George's County Police Department said there was ''nothing to indicate foul play.'' Ellis would not say if there was a suicide note.

Bietighofer, who was ordained in 1965, resigned from his parish and was stripped of his priestly faculties after Lori interviewed two men who said the priest molested them when they were children in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The two alleged victims met with Lori a day after the Connecticut Post reported that they and two other men said Bietighofer abused them when they were children.

The lawyer for the four men, Jason E. Tremont, said in an interview last night that six additional men have since contacted him to say that Bietighofer also molested them when they were boys. The victims ranged in age from 8 to 14.

Immediately after meeting with the two men, Lori met with the priest, who voluntarily resigned his parish assignment. Lori removed Bietighofer's authorization to function as a priest, according to a statement by Lori at the time.

''In the case of Father Bietighofer, the allegations from the two gentlemen were credible enough to warrant immediate action,'' Lori said in the statement. Bietighofer had been at St. Andrew's since October.

The alleged abuse occurred while Bietighofer was pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Bridgeport between 1976 and 1982. The boys were either altar boys or students at the parish's school.

In the Bridgeport diocese, seven priests have resigned or been removed since Lori took over the diocese from New York Cardinal Edward Egan just over a year ago. The diocese last year settled 26 lawsuits, paying more than $12 million, according to the Hartford Courant.

Egan has come under sharp criticism for resisting settlements with victims, and for not removing priests from service who he knew had faced allegations of sexual abuse. Egan has apologized, saying that, ''if in hindsight, we also discover that mistakes may have been made.''

Lori said that the men who came forward were the first to make allegations against Bietighofer.

But Tremont said he believes there were complaints made about Bietighofer to the diocese by parents years ago. And Tremont said his law firm notified the diocese of an additional allegation involving Bietighofer after Egan became bishop in 1988.

Tremont said his law firm moved quickly to report the fresh allegations to the diocese ''because I was extremely concerned, based on what [the alleged victims] were telling me.''

Tremont said all of the alleged victims described a similar modus operandi: Bietighofer would allegedly pull young boys out of classes at Blessed Sacrament and take them to his rectory office or bedroom, where he would engage them in conversations about girls or relationships, and then pull down their pants and fondle them.

Some of the abuse also took place in the confessional, and usually involved altar boys or students at the school, many of whom would gather in the rectory basement to play pool or table tennis. The alleged victims are now mostly in their 30s, Tremont said.

Blessed Sacrament had a large Hispanic population, and Bietighofer spoke fluent Spanish, which ''went over well with families,'' Tremont said. ''That was kind of his in.''

Tremont said he believes diocesan officials knew of Bietighofer's alleged history of abuse years before last month's allegations.

Lori, 50, recently formed a sexual misconduct review board that he said is investigating a small number of new complaints involving alleged sexual misconduct that took place in the 1980s or earlier.

Last night, Lori issued a statement saying, ''I am profoundly saddened by the tragic death of Father Alfred Bietighofer. My heart goes out to his family and to his brother priests who mourn the loss of a brother, a friend, and a colleague. To parishioners and to all those whom Father Bietighofer assisted during the course of his priestly ministry, I extend my sincere sympathy and prayers.''

Matt Carroll can be reached at

Sacha Pfeiffer of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/17/2002.
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