NEWINGTON – Four of 48 clergymen accused of sexual abuse of minors across the region once called Newington their home base.
On Jan 22, when the Archdiocese of Hartford released the names of 48 offenders credibly accused of these crimes within its borders over the last 66 years, congregations across Central Connecticut faced a connection to the scandal.
This did not exclude Holy Spirit and St. Mary churches in Newington, known mutually as Annunciation Parish. None of the accused clergymen are currently ministering and three of the four are now deceased.
The late Joseph Buckley’s last post was in fact St. Mary Church, where he served as administrator and pastor until he retired in 1970. He came to St. Mary’s after its former pastor died in 1956, according to the church’s website. It was under his leadership that the former St. Mary’s School and present-day church buildings were constructed. The website also says he retired in 1970 due to health concerns. He died in 1975, 28 years before the sole claim against him was received in 2003.
Before Newington, Buckley served at St. Vincent in East Haven, St. Agnes in Niantic and St. Therese in Branford.
The ministry of Edward Muha began at St. Mary sometime after he was ordained in 1945. From there he became assistant pastor at St. Cyril and Methodius in Bridgeport, Our Lady of Mercy in Plainville, St. Michael in Waterville and St. Francis in New Haven. Muha was then appointed pastor and pastor emeritus at Immaculate Conception in Terryville before passing away in 2002. The sole claim against him was filed in 2004.
Ordained in 1946, John O’Connor spent time at St. Mary and Holy Spirit churches, as well as St. Thomas and St. Dominic in Southington and St. Francis in Torrington. He was accused in multiple abuse cases after his death in 2003.
The fourth offender and the only one of the four still alive is Peter Zizka, who was removed from ministry in 1999. He was ordained in 1975 before being appointed assistant pastor at Newington’s Holy Spirit. Zizka went on to become chaplain of the Connecticut National Guard and to serve on the clergy at churches in Glastonbury, South Windsor, Suffield, East Hartford, Cheshire, Derby and Manchester. His current residence is unknown.
Additionally, there were 10 clergymen who once served in New Britain and one from Berlin.
According to a statement released on behalf of Archbishop Leonard P. Blair by the archdiocese’s Office of Safe Protection, a total of $50.6 million has been paid to victims of 142 settled claims for child sex abuse.
“Of this amount,” the statement read, “$26.1 million was paid from insurance recoveries and $24.5 million from the General Reserve Fund of the Archdiocese. It should be noted that 98 percent of settlements paid were for allegations of abuse of a minor that occurred before 1990.”
The archbishop asked forgiveness in a video, which has been broadcast on television and radio countless times since.
“I ask -- the church must ask -- for forgiveness from those who have been victims of child sexual abuse by clergy, and from their parents, siblings, and friends,” Blair said. “Healing and reconciliation continue to be an essential but not easy goal, given the terrible effects that these sins and crimes can cause in the lives of victims, to whom the church owes the deepest expression of sorrow and apology.”
The archdiocese hired retired Connecticut Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina to conduct an investigation to identify any additional abusers spanning 1953 to the present.
Archbishop Blair is offering three Masses of Reparation “in an effort to apply spiritual remedies to the scandal and tragedy that has seriously wounded so many people in the church.”
The first was Sunday and the next two are set for Saturday, Feb. 16, at 11 a.m. at St. George Church in Guilford and Tuesday, March 26, at 7 p.m. at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Harwinton.
Incidents of abuse are to be reported to local police and the archdiocese, at 860-541-6475.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.