May 17, 2002

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- A Connecticut bishop who sent a priest accused of molesting children to a psychiatric facility for evaluation said Friday the man's suicide did not eradicate all the good he had done.

The Rev. Alfred J. Bietighofer, 64, was found hanged Thursday at the St. Luke Institute in Maryland. He was the second Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually molesting children to commit suicide recently.

Bietighofer was found dead in his dormitory-style room at St. Luke, a facility in Adelphi, Md., where priests and nuns are treated for problems such as substance abuse and pedophilia.

The Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti, president and chief executive officer of St. Luke, said in a statement: "We are sad to inform you that a client here for evaluation died today, apparently by suicide."

Bietighofer had served in the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese until his removal on April 29 after allegations surfaced that he had molested children.

On April 4, a priest in Ohio shot himself to death following allegations he had molested a girl, and earlier this week a priest accused of molesting a boy was seriously wounded in Baltimore by his alleged victim.

Bietighofer, ordained in 1965, was stripped of his priestly duties and sent to St. Luke by Bridgeport Bishop William E. Lori, who took the action after interviewing two men who told him they were molested by the priest two decades ago when they were children.

In a statement read Friday in Bridgeport, Lori expressed sympathy for the priest's friends and family, and called for reconciliation with any victims. "We have lost a brother, a friend and a co-worker," Lori said. "I am very grateful to the priests who stayed in close contact with Father Bietighofer throughout this ordeal to help him in the process of healing."

Lori said, "The distressing circumstances surrounding his death do not eradicate all the good he did in the course of his priestly ministry of 37 years."

He added: "We must reach out in loving concern to any victims in our community with the spirit of reconciliation and with the spirit of peace. May God's peace reign in all our hearts."

Bietighofer was accused of fondling the men when they were youths attending Blessed Sacrament Church in Bridgeport.

"The allegations from the two gentlemen were credible enough to warrant immediate action," Lori said after removing Bietighofer from duty.

Attorney Jason E. Tremont, representing the two men and two other alleged victims, said in Friday's Boston Globe he has been contacted by six more men who also allege the priest sexually abused them as children.

Tremont said the alleged victims told him Bietighofer would pull them from classes at Blessed Sacrament and molest them in the rectory office, a bedroom or sometimes in the confessional.

One of the alleged victims, Mario Jaiman, said in Friday's Hartford Courant: "We wanted justice, we didn't want a death. This is not what we were looking for, and it comes with a barrage of feelings and maybe some guilt on our parts."

Jaiman said in Friday's Bridgeport Post, "I just feel he couldn't deal with the magnitude of what he was facing and with the guilt of the actions of his past."

The Post said Jaiman and Victor Negron, both 36, along with Len Pirulli, 37, and Manuel Gonzalez, 35, related in an April 28 interview how they had been molested on numerous occasions by Bietighofer between 1976 and 1982.

Jaiman and Negron, who were altar boys, said Bietighofer molested most of the 60 altar boys at the church under the guise of giving them sex education.

The men said they finally came forward after reading about other victims of clergy abuse, and were concerned Bietighofer would molest other children unless they came forward.

The current sexual abuse scandal has resulted in the dismissal or resignation of more than 100 priests around the nation.

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