The priest accused of three counts of fourth-degree sexual assault, the Rev. Edward Warnakulasuriya, was arraigned in Superior Court in Enfield on Friday. The case has been continued until Aug. 26. He is free on a $5,000 cash bond.
A warrant for the arrest of Warnakulasuriya says he touched an 18-year-old male inappropriately after the man had gone to the priest’s residence for confession.
The warrant states that the alleged victim has been going to his whole life and had recently gone to confession several times with the church’s new pastor, Warnakulasuriya.
Standard protocol for confession is that it is heard on Saturdays, but appointments can be made and confessions can be heard elsewhere.
The alleged victim said he went to the suspect's house for confessions several times.
The warrants states that the suspect applied holy water to the alleged victim’s forehead and gave him some to drink. On more than one occasion, the warrant says, the suspect also made the sign of the cross on his arms, legs and lips.
According to the warrant, the suspect also had the alleged victim untuck his shirt and pull it up to his chest, then told him to unbutton and unzip his pants. After the blessing, the warrant states, the suspect touched the alleged victim near his genitals.
The warrant states that on another occasion, when the suspect was comforting the alleged victim, he kissed the alleged victim’s forehead for a long time. The warrant also describes an incident where the suspect touched the victim’s testicles.
Warnakulasuriya, who was charged by Simsbury police on Thursday, was made the administrator at St. Bernard’s about a year ago.
Warnakulasuriya, who is from Sri Lanka, has not been seen at the church for several weeks, according to parishioners. According to the Hartford Courant, Warnakulasuriya has been placed on administrative leave by the archdiocese of Hartford and in court was ordered to surrender his passport.
Deputy First Selectman John Hampton, who grew up in Tariffville and whose parents still live there and attend St. Bernard’s, said Warnakulasuriya from all accounts had been doing good work at the church. Hampton said he never suspected anything.
“It’s awful,” he said of the situation. “It’s sad for everyone involved.”
Hampton said town officials are taking the situation seriously and are monitoring things closely.
This is not the first time a priest with a connection to St. Bernard’s has been involved in a sexual abuse case. According to various sources and an article in the Hartford Courant from 1993, the Rev. Ivan Ferguson — who has since passed away — was named in a civil lawsuit stemming from accusations he sexually abused three students when he was a chaplain and teacher at Northwest Catholic High School in the 1970s.
While at Northwest Catholic, he was also in charge of youth activities and altar boys at St. Bernard’s Church in the Tariffville.