Fairfield Prep, regarded by some as the best college preparatory school in Connecticut, has recently revealed that two former Jesuit teachers have been accused of sexual misconduct.
Rev. Edmund Power and Rev. James Pratt have been accused of sexual misconduct incidents that date back 20 and 30 years, according to a letter from Fairfield Prep President Rev. Michael G. Boughton, S.J. that was sent in March to parents and alumni.
“We are committed to carefully and completely reviewing the allegations and will cooperate fully with appropriate authorities,” Boughton wrote in the letter.
Boughton did not write in the letter whether or not the incidents occurred at Prep.
Boughton wrote, “I have reviewed the files regarding Fr. Power’s and Fr. Pratt’s tenure at Fairfield Prep and found no allegations against either priest prior to his assignment to the school nor any other allegations of misconduct made against either individual during or after his tenure here.”
No further statements can be made by Prep because of the on-going litigation between the parties involved, according to Director of Alumni Relations and Communication Joe Miller. He also would not confirm nor deny whether the incidents occurred at Prep.
Fr. Power served as a chaplain and teacher at the school from 1962 to 1965 and from 1968 to 1976, before dying of a heart attack in 1976.
University Executive to the President Rev. Charles Allen, S.J. knew Powers from the seminary, and was surprised to hear the allegation.
“I was very much surprised. These are emotional times where many accusations are getting thrown out,” Fr. Allen said. “I wasn’t with him twenty-four seven, so I can’t account for all of his actions. But how can you pin down something that happened 30 years ago?”
“Anyone who knew him, loved him,” Fr. Allen added. “Anyone you talk to would say he was a great guy.”
As a Jesuit seminarian, Fr. Pratt taught at Prep from 1981 to 1983. Pratt, who has been a campus minister at Vanderbilt University since 1996, has recently been placed on administrative leave
from his ministerial duties, in accordance with the policies of The Society of Jesus of New England.
“It’s [sexual misconduct by clergy] been happening. It was just a type of thing that was part of the news,” said university chaplain Rev. Paul Carrier, S.J. “You just have to hope that the people put in responsibility are bourn by ethical codes. You have to hope that they are ethical and moral.”
Professor of Religious Studies, Dr. Paul Lakeland was surprised that these have been the only two accused incidents at Prep during such a lengthy period of time.
“I was both disappointed and not surprised, because there are very few institutions like this [Prep] in the Catholic Church that haven’t been touched in some way by the sex abuse crisis in the last 20 or 25 years,” Lakeland said.
“On the assumption that these accusations are justified, you are never going to be 100 percent successful in screening,” Lakeland added. “If all Prep has had is two incidents of this kind of behavior over 20 or 30 years, they’re pretty damn lucky that they are not facing more.”
Acts of misconduct within the clergy have been in the news with victims coming forward.
Former Bishop of the Bridgeport Diocese Rev. Edward M. Egan, and now Cardinal of New York, allowed several priests facing multiple accusations of sexual abuse to continue working, according to a March 17, 2002 article in The Hartford Courant.
Egan’s predecessor, former Bridgeport Bishop Walter Curtis, testified in 1995 that the diocese deliberately moved accused pedophile priests to a different parish to give them a “fresh start,” according to The Hartford Courant. Curtis, who is now deceased, also admitted to destroying records of some priests.
“The single biggest complaint against American Bishops in the way they have handled the sex abuse crisis is that they have thought the answer to this is to buy off the victims – buy their silence – and move the priest,” Lakeland said. “That is utterly disreputable.”
Lakeland said measures to make a healthier priesthood by not mandating celibacy and permitting married men and women could alleviate some of these problems, instead of having a “private club” of celibate men.
“That private club is often tempting to people who want to hide their sexuality or are not comfortable with it or don’t know how to deal with it,” Lakeland said. “They know if they become a priest, no one will question them.”
According to Miller, Prep’s policies and procedures haven’t changed since the knowledge of the alleged incidents.
“Pedophilia is a sickness – a psychological sickness. You just have to recruit the best possible teachers, and do the best possible background checks,” said Professor of Philosophy Rev. Thomas Regan, S.J. “Beyond that, you just have to be vigilant and be aware of what’s going on. It’s important to create an environment where the kids feel comfortable coming forward.”
Fairfield Prep graduates who now attend the university said they felt comfortable while at Prep and were shocked to hear the allegations.
“It’s surprising to hear. I don’t know what stance to take,” said Ryan Birge, ’05. “I interacted with many priests while at Prep, and couldn’t imagine anything like this happening. These are just allegations – there’s nothing to worry about. Sending the letter just caused a false sense of panic.”
Christian Bangert, ’03, said the accusations would never tarnish the Jesuit beliefs and traditions that were instilled in him by Prep and the university.
“My first reaction was surprise. But because of the many problems occurring within the Catholic Church at this time, it didn’t totally astound me,” Bangert said. “I experienced nothing but support and guidance from every lay-teacher and Jesuit that I knew while at Prep.”
Fr. Regan said Prep followed regular policies when notified of the accusations and immediately acknowledged it, and the main priority is always to reach out to the victims.
“The first responsibility [of the letter],” Regan said, “is to make a clear message that this is not something that’s accepted at our schools.”