Snowbirds land in South Florida hauling all sorts of baggage. For one former Connecticut resident, that includes six lawsuits stemming from allegations of Catholic church sex abuse. The most recent allegations hit just last week.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Father Walter Phillip Coleman was the priest at St. Patrick’s, a Catholic church in Bridgeport, Connecticut. During that time, an altar boy was working directly under Colemam when the priest, the lawsuit alleges, “sexually assaulted, sexually battered, and sexually exploited” him. The victim “suffered physical injuries resultant from the sexual abuse and assault and severe emotional injuries including emotional distress, anxiety, frustration, disassociation, posttraumatic stress, and permanent physiological scarring.”
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Though Coleman has not faced related criminal charges, since the 1990s, five other people have come forward to file lawsuits in Connecticut. “Father Coleman was sexually exploiting, assaulting, and abusing minor children in his parish for years, with impunity,” Jason Tremont, the Bridgeport-based representing all six victims, said in a recent statement. “Parents and guardians entrusted their children to the care and protection of the church. Rather than protect them, Father Coleman violated them physically, morally, and spiritually.”
All the suits say that the Bridgeport diocese let the abuse happen under its watch and should have known Coleman was a predator. As early as 1976, higher-ups at the church had gotten complaints about Coleman’s behavior with the boys. The priest, the church, and the diocese have all been named as defendants in the lawsuits. In the previous five cases, the diocese settled with the victims.
Lawyers say Coleman lives in Pompano Beach. “He’s been in Florida for something like 20 years,” Michael London, a spokesman for the plaintiff’s law firm, tells New Times. In the late 2000s, Coleman was reportedly still volunteering at South Florida churches. This prompted the Archdiocese of Miami to issue a warning barring the ex-priest from conducting local services.
Coleman couldn’t be reached for this article.