Priest Says He Also Was Victim of Clerical Abuse

By Gill Donovan
National Catholic Reporter
January 17, 2003

Fr. Michael Hands, a Rockville Centre, N.Y., priest who in March pleaded guilty to sodomizing a 13-year-old boy, said in a 138-page sworn statement that he, too, was sexually abused as a teenager by a cleric, and that the diocese had pressured him to remain silent about it.

According to a Jan. 3 Newsday report, Hands is now cooperating with prosecutors in an effort to obtain a lighter jail sentence. Hands gave his sworn statement Dec. 26 to Michael Dowd, an attorney representing about 100 persons who have filed civil suits charging abuse by priests. The priest is yet to face cross-examination.

In September 2001, when Rockville Centre Bishop William Murphy learned of Hands’ allegation that Msgr. Charles Ribaudo had abused him when he was a high school student, Murphy removed Ribaudo as pastor of St. Dominic’s Parish in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Hands said he wasn’t able to admit to having been abused by Ribaudo until after he had undergone extensive therapy following the charges that he had abused a minor.

Some three months after Ribaudo was removed, however, Msgr. Francis Caldwell, director of priest personnel for the diocese, told Hands that Ribaudo had been evaluated. Hands said Caldwell told him, “We want to reinstate [Ribaudo] back in the parish” before Christmas.

Caldwell told him, Hands said, that the only way Ribaudo’s return could happen would be if Hands would promise never to mention the allegation to anyone else. Hands said he told Caldwell that he wouldn’t broadcast his accusations on television but that he might tell them to a judge if it would help the judge understand his own act of sexual abuse.

Hands said his conversation with Caldwell led him to think that in return for his remaining silent the diocese would pay for Hands’ medical insurance, his psychiatric therapy and offer him other financial help after he voluntarily left the priesthood.

Hands said other diocesan priests have told him that the diocese wanted to reinstate Ribaudo because he had proven to be an effective fundraiser at the affluent Oyster Bay parish.

The allegation against Ribaudo was first reported by Newsday April 5. In March, when the newspaper began investigating an independent source’s information about the allegation, Hands said he received another call from Caldwell, asking him to call Newsday and deny he had ever been abused by Ribaudo. Hands said he declined to do so.

The April 5 Newsday story reported that Ribaudo denied ever having abused Hands. The story reported further that Ribaudo resigned from ministry March 12 and that he was “stripped of his priestly powers” March 27.

On Jan. 3, Newsday said Hands’ 138-page sworn statement “provides an insider’s view” of the diocese’s handling of clergy sexual abuse, in which Hands, “once considered a rising star in the diocese, names names and tells what he had learned from his years as a priest.” Hands charged, for instance, that the diocese repeatedly transferred abusive priests to dioceses in Florida.

Hands is not the only U.S. priest convicted of child abuse to seek leniency through cooperation with authorities. In Boston, Fr. Ronald Paquin pleaded guilty Dec. 31 to three charges of oral rape of a child and received a 12-year prison sentence. Paquin, whose history of sexually abusing minors was made public last spring when a Boston judge ordered his church records be released to the public (NCR, June 7), has said that, like Hands, he was abused by a priest as a teenager.

Jeffrey Newman, a Massachusetts attorney for 17 victims of Paquin, told the Boston Herald Jan. 1 that he plans to make use of Paquin as a witness. “I’ve always thought the real truth beyond the verbiage of the [released archdiocesan] documents would emerge through the testimony of people like Paquin,” he said.

Gill Donovan is a staff writer for NCR. His e-mail address is


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