Grand Jury Reports Long Island Diocese Protected 58 Abusive Priests. (Church in Crisis)

By Donovan, Gill | National Catholic Reporter, February 21, 2003 | Go to article overview

Grand Jury Reports Long Island Diocese Protected 58 Abusive Priests. (Church in Crisis)


Donovan, Gill, National Catholic Reporter


A grand jury investigation report released Feb. 10 charged the diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., with protecting 58 sexually abusive priests through what it called a "sham" policy designed to protect the church's reputation and minimize payouts to victims.

The 180-page report from the Suffolk County grand jury was written after more than 30 priests and more than 40 victims of abuse testified. The grand jury also examined thousands of church records over a nine-month period.

The report said, "The response of priests in the diocesan hierarchy to allegations of criminal sexual abuse was not pastoral. In fact, although there was a written policy that set a pastoral tone, it was a sham. The diocese failed to follow the policy from its inception, even at the most rudimentary level."

The grand jury also heard testimony about the diocesan policy from Fr. Michael Hands, now imprisoned for child abuse, who had agreed to cooperate with authorities in return for sentencing considerations(NCR, Jan. 17). According to the Associated Press, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who made the report public, said Hands' testimony was "absolutely material" to the grand jury proceedings.

The Rockville Centre diocese, led by Bishop William Murphy, is the nation's sixth largest, with 1.3 million Catholics. Prior to becoming bishop of Rockville Centre, Murphy had been chief assistant to Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston. Murphy was unavailable to comment on the report's release in New York because, according to his spokesperson, Joanne Novarro, he had traveled to Boston. Murphy was scheduled to give testimony there Feb. 12 to a grand jury investigating whether he and other Boston church officials should face prosecution for their mishandling of abusive priests in Boston.

Though the Suffolk County grand jury could not indict any of the abusive priests because a five-year statute of limitations had expired, it recommended that the New York legislature abolish the statute in cases of child abuse and pass a law requiring all clergy to take suspicions of child abuse to police.

Most of the accounts of abuse recorded in the report occurred during the tenure of Bishop John McGann, who led the diocese from 1976 to 1999. Bishop James McHugh followed him and was replaced by Murphy in 2001.

The report concluded, "the history of the Diocese of Rockville Centre demonstrates that as an institution they are incapable of properly handling issues relating to the sexual abuse of children by priests."

The report documents allegations of the rape of cheerleaders and altar boys, of acts of molestation and seductions in churches, rectories, on camping trips, and in the homes of the minors who were abused. It tells of instances in which priests provided minors with pornography and alcohol, and of cases in which the diocese received allegations and didn't report them to police, but instead transferred the accused priests to other parishes.

The report does not name the accused priests but instead refers to 23 of them by letters of the alphabet, saying, for instance, that Priest D abused "a minimum of six boys who ranged in age from 10 to 17."

In a Feb. 11 report, Newsday, a Long Island daily, recounts the charges against each of the 23 and in many instances identifies the priests by matching the crimes described in the report to allegations it has learned from victims.

Spota unveiled the report at a news conference in Hauppauge. He said that in his examination of the thousands of pages of church documents he had found no evidence that the diocese ever reported a case of an abusive priest to police.

Spota said of the grand jury report: "This document tells all of us what was really happening in the Diocese of Rockville Centre for years and years and years. High-ranking prelates protected 58 colleagues from disgrace rather than protecting children from these predator priests. …

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