Jane Doe v. Norwich Roman Catholic Diocese et al.: A now 48-year-old woman who claims that a Catholic priest sexually abused her several times when she was a young girl in the mid- to late 1970s has recovered $1.1 million in a settlement.

The woman, Mary Maynard, did not go public with her identity when the lawsuit was initially filed but decided right before a scheduled trial was to begin last month that she would reveal her name.

According to her lawyers, Robert I. Reardon Jr. and his daughter, Kelly Reardon, of the Reardon Law Firm in New London, the Rev. Thomas Shea, who began his career as a priest in the 1940s and spent his entire career in the Norwich Roman Catholic Diocese, was assigned to St. Joseph’s parish in New London from 1976 to 1978.

During that span, Shea allegedly molested Maynard over a six-month period, during which Maynard turned 13 years old. Kelly Reardon said that Shea groped the girl, French kissed her, and over time, the abuse escalated as she was forced to perform oral sex on the priest and he penetrated her with his fingers.

The plaintiffs said the girl’s family were parishioners and lived in the neighborhood near the church. The woman said Shea would “take her aside after church.”

Kelly Reardon said the abuse has led to years of depression and other psychological issues for Maynard. “Doctors said she’ll never be able to hold a job,” the attorney said. “She’s had tremendous problems with relationships as well.

“We were prepared to submit to the jury about $84,000 in medical bills for her psychiatric and psychological care just from 2005 to present,” continued Kelly Reardon. “And in addition to that, there was going to be testimony about future mental health care for the rest of her life.”

Maynard, who never told her parents about the abuse, filed the Jane Doe lawsuit in 2007 against the Norwich diocese, as well as retired Bishop Daniel Reilly and Monsignor Thomas Bride. Shea died in 2006. The lawsuit alleged negligence, recklessness, breach of fiduciary duty and a conspiracy to commit fraud.

Kelly Reardon said the Norwich diocese, represented by Gary Kaisen, of Milano & Wanat in Branford, disputed Maynard’s claims every step of the way. Kaisen did not return calls for comment.

“The gist of their defense was deny, deny, deny,” said Kelly Reardon. “They denied that she was molested, denied that Shea molested other girls and that [diocese leaders] had any knowledge he was molesting other girls.”

The plaintiffs said other allegations of past abuse involving Shea were well documented in records that the diocese reluctantly turned over during the discovery process of this lawsuit. “The [diocese] had received written complaints as early as 1965 and rather than taking any steps to remove him from the priesthood where he would not have access to young girls, they would transfer him from parish to parish every time they received a complaint that he molested a girl,” said Kelly Reardon.

Kelly Reardon explained that Shea was sent away for therapy in 1972 and the diocese was later told by a psychologist that he should not be placed in a setting with access to children., but in a position where he could work with the elderly. “Instead they sent him to St. Joseph’s in New London where he molested our client,” the attorney said.

Prior to Shea’s official departure from the parish, he was sent home to his parent’s house in Hartford after more complaints surfaced about the priest. “Sadly, they still sent him to other parishes after that,” said Kelly Reardon.

No criminal charges were ever brought against Shea. The diocese conducted its own investigation a decade ago. “The craziest part of this whole story is a reporter from the New London Day tracked down Shea at a nursing home in West Hartford and he admitted to years of inappropriate behavior with girls,” said Kelly Reardon. “Even after that, the church refused to acknowledge he molested our client and molested other girls at the time. The reporter was going to testify at trial.”

Also slated to testify at trial were several other women who claim they, too, were molested by Shea when they were young girls. Reardon said, in all, six women were prepared to testify. Kelly Reardon believes this potentially damning testimony before a jury was what prompted the diocese to settle the claim on the day the trial was to begin.

Kelly Reardon said that former Bishop Reilly and Monsignor Bride both were deposed before the trial and also would have testified. She said they claim they had “no knowledge whatsoever that Thomas Shea was molesting girls until much later on in time.”

The case was scheduled for trial last month on the Hartford complex litigation docket but on his last day as a state trial judge, Robert Holzberg mediated an agreement between the two sides.

“The case actually settled as I was about to deliver my opening statement,” said Robert Reardon. “I was literally at the podium waiting for the jury to come in. It was kind of a dramatic way to resolve the case.”

The settlement of $1.1 million was in the ballpark of what the plaintiffs were seeking all along. “The plaintiff was thrilled, as thrilled as she could be given what she’s been through,” said Kelly Reardon.

Kelly Reardon claims that Shea abused parishioners from 1967 through 1986. She said she has another client who also has a pending lawsuit against the diocese related to alleged abuse by Shea.

“We’ve made every effort early on to try to avoid an ordeal for this woman, the same kind of ordeal Mary Maynard underwent but it does not seem the diocese is receptive to resolving this one quickly either,” said Kelly Reardon.•