The shock is that so many cases have spilled like stained vestments into public view--not just in Boston but in Los Angeles and St. Louis, Mo., and Philadelphia and Palm Beach, Fla., and Washington and Portland, Maine, and Bridgeport, Conn. The horror is not their singularity but their ghastly similarity: claims of a Roman Catholic priest sexually abusing children, and the church covering it up whether it involves Father Dan or Father Oliver or Father Rocco...
Or Father Brett. Frank Martinelli was an impressionable 14-year-old altar boy who yearned to be a priest. He saw a holy future unfolding when the Rev. Laurence Brett, the charismatic young priest at St. Cecilia's in Stamford, Conn., enrolled him in a select teen group dubbed Brett's Mavericks. It wasn't quite the kind of special relationship with a trusted priest that Martinelli expected. On a Washington field trip, Father Brett allegedly fondled young Frank in a bathroom. Martinelli claims that while Brett was driving him home, the priest urged the boy to give him oral sex, blessing it as a way to receive Holy Communion. Like most youngsters 30 years ago, Frank was too ashamed, too scared, too uncomprehending ever to say a word.
Martinelli, now 54, didn't become a priest after all. He married, had a son and settled in Milwaukee to work as a consultant for nonprofit organizations. His life was marred by inexplicable confusions, anger, depression and lost faith. Not until one night in 1991 did he understand why. He was talking on the phone to an old Connecticut friend when the friend blurted out that he had been abused back in those Maverick days by Father Brett. "I had this rush of feeling," Martinelli told TIME. "I realized, Wow, that's what happened to me." He began seeing a therapist and a year later filed a civil suit in New Haven, Conn., federal court against Brett and the Bridgeport diocese, then led by Bishop Edward Egan.
Church authorities in Bridgeport had discovered Brett's proclivities as early as 1964. They did not report him to civil authorities or warn parishioners, and they let him minister at ecclesiastical posts around the country. In 1990 when Egan took over as bishop, he met with Brett and later noted, "All things considered, he made a good impression. In the course of our conversation, the particulars of his case came out in detail and with grace." As a result, Egan let Brett come back to Bridgeport as a priest.
In November 1992 Brett confessed to an indiscretion and later to two more--but stayed in the ministry. Then came Martinelli's allegations, and then another accuser surfaced. A week later, Egan finally told Brett he could no longer serve as a priest. In mid-1997 a jury decided the diocese had breached its duty by not warning Martinelli of the priest's predilections and awarded him nearly $1 million. An appeals court overturned the award, and the case was later settled for an undisclosed amount.
Today Brett is on the run and still officially a priest, despite pleas to defrock him. Egan, now Cardinal and Archbishop of New York and perhaps the pre-eminent prelate in the U.S., is under heavy fire to explain his handling not just of Brett but of other pending cases of priests whose abuses he allegedly hushed up while in Bridgeport. For Martinelli, there's still no solace. He would, he says, have settled for nothing in cash if he just could have got a public apology.