Sins of the Fathers
Grand Jury says New York diocese long protected
By Rita Ciolli, Staff Writer
February 10, 2003
Catholic church officials on Long Island failed in the past to
protect children from sexual abuse by priests and cannot be trusted
to protect them now without changes in state law, according to a
withering Suffolk County grand jury report to be released this morning.
The 180-page report depicts, sometimes in lurid detail, how the
hierarchy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre concealed the alleged
criminal behavior of its priests and used "deception and intimidation
in dealing with abuse victims. The report repeatedly points out
how avoiding bad publicity was paramount.
Calling the diocesan policy of dealing with abusive priests "a
sham, the report exposes a "system that left thousands
of children in the diocese exposed to predatory, serial child molesters
working as priests.
The report estimates that abuse cases cost the diocese $2 million,
with about $1.7 million of that being paid to victims in settlements.
And with abuse allegations on record by 2002 against at least 58
priests, according to an internal memo cited in the report, the
only priest who was defrocked at that point, was one who admitted
to having an affair with an adult woman.
The grand jury's findings were to be announced this morning by
Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota. The report was filed Friday
with the office of the Suffolk court clerk by Supreme Court Justice
Patrick Henry, who had oversight of the grand jury. The grand jury
began investigating the diocese in May after details of the scandal
in Boston reverberated on Long Island.
The grand jury was unable to file indictments because too much
time has lapsed to bring criminal charges, which is one of the reasons
it is calling on the legislature to eliminate any statute of limitations
in cases involving sex crimes against children.
Because the grand jury used its findings to publish a report recommending
changes in state law, names are not allowed to be used. Offending
priests are assigned letters from A to W. Diocesan officials are
referred generically by their duties. Diocesan Chancellor Msgr.
Robert Brennan sent an e-mail message Sunday night to all pastors
informing them that Bishop William Murphy had gotten word of the
"The Diocese has not yet seen the report nor has the Diocese
been informed of its content, Brennan wrote.
Kevin McDonough, an attorney for the diocese, said Sunday night
in a telephone interview, "The diocese hasn't seen the report,
and until we do review the grand jury report, we are not in a position
to respond to it.
The grand jury report details how cheerleaders were raped, altar
boys were sodomized and Catholic youths were shown pornographic
movies and plied with alcohol in rectory bedrooms.
In one instance, according to the report, a pastor found a homemade
pornographic movie in a priest's bedroom. After watching the tape,
he realized that a 15-year-old boy from the parish was involved
in one of the sex acts. The pastor reported the incident to the
"highest level of the diocese.
Despite the fact that the offending priest admitted to the abuse
during subsequent treatment and the crime was prosecutable, "no
consideration was given to reporting the abuse to law enforcement,
according to the report. Neither was an effort made to locate and
assist the victim, it said.
"Not one priest in the diocese who knew about these criminal
acts reported them to any law enforcement agency, the grand
jury report stated in recommending changes to state law that would
mandate that priests and other church supervisors report such crimes.
Using testimony from victims and internal documents obtained by
subpoena, the report finds that abusive priests were transferred
from parish to parish despite pastors, other priests and school
principals repeatedly asking that the accused clerics be stopped
In one case, according to the findings, a priest who reported his
concerns and helped the victim's mother pursue her complaint had
a memo placed in his file from a high-ranking official saying "no
serious consideration would be given to offering the concerned
priest another assignment.
"In the diocese of Rockville Centre, a priest who molests
children should suffer no disgrace, but one who advocates on their
behalf risks banishment, the report says.
Diocesan officials charged with placing priests in jobs often kept
colleagues in the dark about the troublesome background of some
abusers. In one case, a priest was allowed to become a chaplain
at a diocesan high school even though other priests complained about
him taking boys on private trips and letting them in his room at
the rectory. One of the complaining priests said he feared the interest
in the boys was more personal than pastoral.
The grand jury report also found poor screening for candidates
who wanted to enter the priesthood and a failure to keep adequate
files on the warnings received about them. A priest in charge of
vocations once advised against accepting a candidate into the seminary,
but the report does not specify why. He was ignored, and the priest
went on to molest children, according to the report.
Despite some glaring examples, the grand jury report says many
of the priests involved with personnel issues recalled few details
of abuse cases when they testified. "Even when presented with
documents that should have refreshed their memories of these important
issues, the report says, "they could not recall many
of the cases they handled.
According to the report, the Office of Legal Affairs played a powerful
role in the abuse cases and bears much of the responsibility for
the diocese's failures. Significant emphasis is placed on the aggressive
legal strategies that were employed. Calling it a "carefully
orchestrated plan, the report says members of the "intervention
team appear to be providing pastoral care but were, in reality,
acting as a legal counsel for the diocese.
One document details how an unidentified diocesan official boasted
of how the method he devised for Long Island has been used in about
200 other priest abuse cases around the country.
The memo appears to be written by Msgr. Alan Placa, a key player
in handling abuse complaints against priests in the late 1980s.
It says this speedy effort to get to the victim and find out all
the details and facts makes the Long Island diocese "unique
in its handling of abuse cases. He noted costs were down here compared
with some other dioceses where settlements range from $20,000 to
"We have suffered no major loss or scandal due to allegations
of sexual misconduct by religious personnel ... the Diocese of Rockville
Centre has paid out a total of $4,000 because of claims of sexual
In a 1996 memo, an unidentified official who appears to be Placa
writes that Rockville Centre has the "lowest ratio of losses
to assets of any diocese and the lowest ratio of losses to number
of priests in any diocese in the country. Our system is in place
and working well.
The report comments that the ratio analogy reveals the true concerns
of the diocesan team assigned to take care of abuse cases. "What
it all came down to was a simple accounting issue, nothing more
or less, the report says.
The report finds that as of October 2002, there was a balance of
$11 million in a special account to pay abuse claims. The fund,
created in 1985 by Bishop John McGann (now deceased) to pay for
"uninsured perils, was to cover the costs of abuse cases,
asbestos exposure and trampoline accidents. The seed money was provided
by special assessments on parishes, and the fund grew from investment
returns. There were never any payments for asbestos or trampoline
costs, the report says.
While money was used for abuse cases, there are few documents or
accounting ledgers to explain the details of where the money went.
In fact, until three years ago, there was no paperwork needed to
get a payment from the fund.
The grand jury approximates that since 1989, $2 million was spent
from the fund, with $1.7 million to pay legal settlements. Other
money was used to pay the bills of the psychiatrists, psychologists,
hospital and treatment centers that worked with troubled priests.
Not included in the $2 million paid out was another $66,000 used
to pay for debt that an abusive priest ran up on his credit card,
which the report says probably was for gambling losses.
Another $70,000 was used to pay off the mortgage of an accuser
so he could live without any housing expenses. The report notes
that an employee who works for the diocese handling insurance matters
said the actual amount paid for abuse cases "could be much
higher than $2 million.
The report provides no overall look at how many abusive priests
there were and what happened to them. However, some specifics can
be gleaned from diocesan memos the grand jury examined. A July 1994
memo labeled "CONFIDENTIAL said there were 55 suspect
priests, 14 cases were labeled active, two other active cases were
priests working outside of the diocese, two were in litigation,
32 were inactive and five deceased. Of all the cases involving abuse
of minors, not one priest had been removed from ministry, and of
the 20 priests still alive, only five had been sent for evaluation.
A 2002 internal diocesan memo updating the status of abuse cases
found 58 priests, with 14 still serving in Nassau and Suffolk and
three working in other dioceses. Some had died and others resigned.
The grand jury subpoenaed the secret personnel files of 43 priests,
heard testimony from 97 witness and reviewed 257 exhibits, according
to sources familiar with the report.
In conclusion, the grand jury said the history of the diocese "demonstrates
that as an institution they are incapable of properly handling issues
relating to the sexual abuse of children by priests. Even
though a new policy was instituted in 1992 after the abuse scandal
began to unfold in other parts of the country, nothing had really
changed on Long Island, the report says. That is until prosecutors
and the media began asking questions.
"The spotlight shining on the Diocese from the outside world
is the only thing that caused them to change their behavior,
the report states. That's when priests accused of abuse were either
forced to resign or were suspended.
As one diocesan official told the grand jury, "Everybody was
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