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Diocese Hit With Sex Abuse Suit

The Diocese of Bridgeport once again finds itself under fire in a sexual abuse scandal. A former altar boy at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Fairfield has claimed that a priest there molested him more than 38 years ago. Eric Sauers, now 48 and living in Iowa, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Bridgeport Superior Court against the Diocese, which takes in all of Fairfield County. Sauers, who grew up in Fairfield, claims the Rev. Walter Philip Coleman repeatedly abused him starting when he was just 10 years old.

"[Coleman] is a known pedophile, as far as I'm concerned," said Jason Tremont, who is representing Sauers. "He worked [in the diocese] for a long time, with a lot of transfers."

The lawsuit alleges that Coleman began abusing Sauers in 1972. The priest offered to give the boy a ride home after Sunday Mass, but instead took him to a secluded location and sexually abused him, the suit says. Sauers claims the molestation lasted for more than a year.

"Although Mr. Sauers' allegations in the case date back over 35 years to the early 1970s, he did not raise the issue or inform the diocese of the alleged abuse until just this year," said Brian Wallace, a spokesman for the diocese. "Prior to that time, the Diocese of Bridgeport had no knowledge of any alleged incident involving Mr. Sauers."

Sauers is the sixth client of Tremont's law firm to bring allegations against Coleman in court. The priest was suspended by the diocese after the first accuser came forward in 1995. In the past, sources said the diocese granted Coleman a two-month sabbatical in 1976, during which he traveled cross-country with a young boy. He also allegedly shared a Bridgeport home with a single mother, and abused the woman's son. He now lives in Pompano, Fla., and is no longer connected with the church.

Although the statute of limitations for criminal charges has passed, Tremont said his client decided to come forward to gain closure.

"It was something that was eating away at him," Tremont said.

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