Assignment Record Rev. Bernard W. Bissonnette (Bissonette)

Summary of Case: Bernard "Fr. Barney" Bissonnette was ordained in 1958 for the Diocese of Norwich CT. It wasn't long before he was first transferred out of a parish due to allegations of child sexual abuse, in 1959. He cycled through four parishes in the Norwich diocese, removed each time due to allegations, then was sent in 1963 to to the Servants of the Paraclete's Via Coeli in Jemez Springs NM for treatment. His Norwich bishop would not allow him to return to the diocese due to his "notoriety," but continued to support him financially. Bissonnette went to the Duluth MN diocese for a short time 1965-66, spending time at parish and in treatment at another Servants of the Paraclete facility. He returned to NM, where he worked in parishes until 1992; he also was chaplain of a correctional facility for boys until his removal in 1978, due to allegations he sexually abused "inmates." Bissonnette has been the subject of a number of lawsuits. One accuser said Bissonnette's abuse in the early 1960s included his forcing the boy to perform sex acts on other children.

In 1993 three CT brothers of a Bissonnette victim, who took his own life in 1991, traveled to NM to confront the priest. Their father had reported the brother's abuse to the Norwich diocese in 1963, after which Bissonnette was sent to NM. Bissonnette admitted the abuse to the victim's brothers when confronted, while minimizing the extent. The brothers found that Bissonnette was living at the time with a Belen NM family which included small children. The family ignored their warnings about the priest; the brothers reported the situation to the diocese and state police. Bissonnette was laicized in 2005. He died in NM in 2008.

Born: October 1931
Ordained: May 15, 1958
Laicized: May 20, 2005
Died: December 24, 2008

 

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Start Stop Assignment Town/Accusations State Position Notes

1958

Norwich bishop was Bernard Joseph Flanagan (1953-1959).

1958 Christ the King

Old Lyme

CT assistant for a few months

 

1958 1959 St. Michael's

Pawcatuck

Bissonnette was transferred from here after three months due to allegations of sexual abuse.

CT    

1959

Flanagan was succeeded by Vincent Joseph Hines (1959-1975).

1962 All Hallows

Moosup

Per news reports, Bissonnette was transferred by 1962 because of parishioners complaints of "familiarities with boys." At least one accuser filed suit decades later, claiming Bissonnette repeatedly sexually assaulted him 1960-62, and forced him to perform sex acts on other children.

CT 2/2 All Hallows had a school with 330 students.
1959 1962 St. Joseph's Sterling CT   This was a mission of All Hallows in Moosup.
1959 1961   Oneco CT   This was a station of All Hallows in Moosup.
June 1962 1963 St. Mary's

Putnam

Accused in 1963 of sexually abusing two boys. In 1993, three brothers in a CT family confronted Bissonnette in NM for sexually abusing their brother, Tommy Deary, including rape, when he was an altar boy in 1962 at St. Mary's; Tommy committed suicide in 1991.

CT 3/3 Tommy Deary told his mother in April 1993 of his abuse by Bissonnette. His father reported the disclosure to a St. Mary's monsignor, and Bissonnette was moved out of state.
1963 1965 Retired/Sick Leave       Sent to the Servants of the Paraclete's Via Coeli in NM for treatment after allegations he sexually abused boys. Norwich bishop would not allow Bissonnette to return to the diocese because of his "notoriety," but the diocese continued to support him.

1965

Duluth bishop was Francis Joseph Schenk (1960-1969).

1966 St. James West Duluth MN 3/3

St. James' had a school with 257 students.

Sent briefly to a Paraclete's facility for treatment in MN (Nevis), then returned to NM.

1966

Santa Fe archbishop was James Peter Davis (1964-1974).

1968 St. Anne's

Santa Fe

Sued in 1997 by a man alleging sexual abuse when he was a child at St. Anne's by Bissonnette, 1966-68.

NM assistant  
1966 1968   Agua Fria, Cinega, Cineguilla NM   These were missions of St. Anne's in Santa Fe.
May 1968   Via Coeli Jemez Springs NM patient Sent here again after "familiar" complaints.
1968 1979         The Directories index Bissonnette as "on duty outside the diocese" for Norwich. The Norwich pages list him as at St. Anne's in Santa Fe NM, but he is not listed as there in the Santa Fe pages.
1960s 1970s St. Alice's

Mountanair

Bissonnette was accused in a November 2015 lawsuit of raping a St. Alice's altar boy, ages 7-12, hundreds of times 1968-73.

NM   This assignment is per news reports.

1960s

Davis was replaced as Santa Fe archbishop by Robert Fortune Sanchez (1974-1993).

1978 Boys' School

Springer

Bissonette was dismissed from this assignment in 1978 due to allegations of abuse of juvenile "inmates.

NM chaplain

This assignment is per news reports.

The Boys' School was a juvenile correctional facility.

1979 1981 St. Bernadette's Albuquerque NM 2/3  
1981 1982         Indexed as "on duty outside the diocese [of Norwich] in the 1982 Directory. Not listed as at St. Bernadette's in Albuquerque.

1982

The Las Cruces diocese was established in August 1982. It's bishop was Ricardo Ramirez, C.S.B. (1982-2013).

1984 St. Eleanor's Ruidoso NM Administrator  
1982 1983 San Patricio Picacho NM   This was a mission of St. Eleanor's in Ruidoso.
1982 1983   Alto, Tinnie, Sunset, Riverside, Arabela, Angus, Ruidoso Down, Glencoe, Hondo, Biscuit Hills NM    
1983 1984 St. Jude Thaddeus San Patricio NM   This was a mission of St. Eleanor's in Ruidoso.
1983 1984 St. Joseph's Picacho NM   This was a mission of St. Eleanor's in Ruidoso.
1984 1985 Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Las Cruces NM 4/4 The Cathedral had a school with 250 students.
1985 1987 St. Jude's Almogordo NM 2/2  
1987 1992 Our Lady of Perpetual Help Truth or Consequences NM 1/1  
1987 1992 St. Joseph's Cuchillo NM   This was a mission of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences.
1987 1992 San Miguel Rancho San Miguel NM   This was a mission of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences.
1987 1992 San Isidro Las Palomas NM   This was a mission of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences.
1987 1992 St. Ignatius Montecello NM   This was a mission of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences.
1987 1992 San Lorenzo Placitas NM   This was a mission of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences.
1987 1992 St. Gregory's Chise NM   This was a chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences.
1987 1992 San Miguel Rancho San Miguel NM   This was a chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences.
1987 1992 St. James Eagle NM   This was a station of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences.
1987 1992 St. Jude Winston NM  

This was a station of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences.

Bissonnette is not indexed beyond the 1992 Directory.

1992 2008   Belen NM  

When the Deary brothers confronted Bissonnette in 1993, they found that the priest was living in Belen NM with a family with small children; the NM family wouldn't listen to their warnings about Bissonnette. The brothers said they informed NM state police and the Santa Fe chancery about the situation. They also said Bissonnette minimized it, but admitted to having abused their brother in the early 1960s. The Deary brothers pressured the Church to have Bissonnette defrocked.

Bissonnette was laicized May 20, 2005, as announced in March 2006.

He died December 24, 2008 in Belen.

 

Sources: Official Catholic Directory (New York: P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1958-1992)

Breach of Faith, Catholic Leaders Struggle with Reports of Pedophiles in the Priesthood, By Rebecca Jones, Rock Mountain News, April 13, 1993
Court Allows Man to Sue Connecticut Diocese for Alleged Sex Abuse, Associated Press, December 29, 1998
Court: Priest's Alleged Victim Can Sue Connecticut Diocese, By Nancy Plevin, Santa Fe New Mexican [New Mexico],
February 18, 1999
Reilly Being Sued in Three Dioceses, Richard Nangle and Kathleen A. Shaw, Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette,
March 17, 2002
A Sudden Spotlight on the Church, By Brian J. Scheid, New York Times, March 24, 2002
Family Calls for Bishops to Resign over Abuse Case, By Kathleen A. Shaw, Telegram & Gazette [Massachusetts],
April 20, 2002
Church Can't Be Sued in New Mexico for Priest's Alleged Sexual Abuse, By Barry Massey, Associated Press State & Local Wire [Santa Fe], May 24, 2002
What Did the Bishop Know, And When?, By Kathleen A. Shaw and Richard Nangle, Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette, September 1, 2002
Pope Laicizes Former Putnam Parish Priest, By Kathleen A. Shaw, Worcester Telegram & Gazette [Connecticut,]
March 7, 2006
Justice for Thomas Deary As Norwich Sex Abuse Case Closes, By Greg Smith, Norwich Bulletin, March 8, 2006
Supreme Court Sends Priest Sex Case Back to Superior Court, The Associated Press, carried in The Advocate
July 17, 2006
High Court Eases Abuse Case, By Lynne Tuohy, Hartford Courant, July 18, 2006
Taking on the Catholic Church, Sexual Abuse, Coverups Go Back Centuries, a Priest Contends, By Frances Grandy Taylor, Hartford Courant, July 24, 2006
A Bishop in Denial Left a Legacy of Pain, Diocese and Victims Still Pay Heavy Price for Reilly's Sheltering of Abusive Priests, The Day, May 13, 2007
Norwich Diocese Faces Racketeering Lawsuit over Abusive Priests, By Elizabeth Hamilton, Hartford Courant, December 31, 2008
Another suit filed alleging pedophilia by former Santa Fe priests, By Marti Glaser, KOB, November 11, 2015
Secret Records Released Re Ct Predator Priest, SNAP, November 19, 2015
Priest sex abuse victim challenges ‘culture of secrecy’, By Olivier Uyttebrouck, Albuquerque Journal, December 6, 2015
Suits Allege Priest Abuse, Seek Punitive Damages, New Mexican, December 17, 2015
A Predator Priest, By David Margolick, The Slate, July 22, 2011



Priests in a Parish: We use the following convention to show a priest's place among the clergy of a parish: 1/2 means that he is the first priest listed in the Official Catholic Directory (usually the pastor) and that there is a total of two priests at the parish. The shorthand 3/4 means that the priest is listed third on a four-priest roster. See our sample page from the Directory.

Note: The Official Catholic Directory aims to report the whereabouts of Catholic priests in the United States on January 1 of the Directory's publication year. Our working assumption is that a priest listed in the Directory for a given year was at the same assignment for part of the previous year as well. However, Kenedy and Sons will sometimes accept updates well into the year of publication. Diocesan clergy records are rarely available to correct this information. The Directory is also sometimes misleading or wrong. We have tried to create an accurate assignment record, given the source materials and their limitations. Assignment records are a work in progress and we are always improving the records that we post. Please email us with new information and corrections.

This assignment record collates Simonelli's career history as it is represented in the Official Catholic Directory with allegations as reported in the media. We make no representation regarding the truth of the allegation we report, and we remind our readers that the U.S. legal system presumes that a person accused of or charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Similarly, individuals who may be defendants in civil actions are presumed not to be liable for such claims unless a plaintiff proves otherwise. Admissions of guilt or liability are not typically a part of civil or private settlements. For more information, see our posting policy.

This assignment record was last updated on April 12, 2016.


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