'Not Again' Is Reaction Among the Rank and File

By Elissa Gootman
New York Times
February 12, 2003

OCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y., Feb. 11 - For lawyers, public officials and victims' advocates, the report on abusive priests that was prepared by a Suffolk County grand jury offered the first independent account - apart from newspaper articles or civil lawsuits - of how the Diocese of Rockville Centre handled abuse complaints.

But for ordinary Catholics, those who attend church weekly as well as those who do not, the report, which was released on Monday, was only the latest piece of embarrassing and depressing news.

"It's almost like white noise now," said Nick Angelis, 42, the owner of Nick's Pizza, which is close enough to diocese headquarters and St. Agnes Cathedral that priests often stop by for spaghetti and meatballs.

Here in Rockville Centre and elsewhere on Long Island, few lay Roman Catholics claimed to have read all 180 pages of the report, which describes dozens of abuse cases, some in graphic detail, and outlines a system in which complaints were shunted aside and victims discouraged from seeking legal recourse. Many of those who had heard of the report, or read parts of it, agreed with Gail Nataloni, who said she received news of the grand jury report with a sigh of, "Oh, my God, not again."

"At this point, it's just so much," said Ms. Nataloni, the manager of a Lucille Roberts health club.

As the scandal has unraveled nationally, Ms. Nataloni, 38, has continued to attend church during trying times and on holidays. But it is not the experience it used to be.

"Every priest, you wonder if there is something in their past, if there are skeletons in the closet," she said. "You always feel that you're safe when you go to a place you believe in. If something's wrong in life, you want to feel cleansed."

Nowadays, said Jamie Colapinto, 40, of Huntington, new faces in the rectory raise questions among parishioners. "If you get a new priest, you wonder, `Why's he here?' " she said. "I think that the church really has to learn from this report."

But there are also those like Alfred Kump, 63, a comptroller for a plumbing supply company in Baldwin, who said his weekly trips to St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church in Bethpage would not be any less meaningful in the wake of the grand jury report. "It shouldn't have been covered up, but this was done by men," Mr. Kump said over coffee with colleagues at the Pantry Diner in Rockville Centre. "It wouldn't shatter my faith at all because of this. When I go to church, I'm not going there because of the priest. I'm going there because of God."

Similarly, Mr. Angelis, the pizza shop owner, said that the first communion ceremony for his 8-year-old son, John, planned for this May at St. Agnes Cathedral, would be no less joyous for the report's findings. And while many Catholics appeared particularly dismayed to learn that church officials had dismissed victims' complaints, Mr. Angelis said he still preferred to give the church the benefit of the doubt.

"Do you want something like this to go public?" he asked. "No. If I found one of my waiters was a child abuser, we'd get rid of him but I'd like as few people as possible to know about it."

In the report, the grand jury suggested several legal changes to ensure that abusers, and church officials who refrain from reporting abuse, be punished, including extending the statute of limitations and requiring that officials report abuse cases. But several Catholics said the findings were further indication that the church needed to change from within.

"It's a terrible thing that it happened to the children, but it's a good thing that it's coming back into the open," said Patricia Randazzo, 51, who owns a dance school in Baldwin.

Mrs. Randazzo also interpreted the disclosures in the report as an indictment of the church's celibacy laws. "You're getting men in the priesthood who have conflicts in their lives," she said. "They restrict the priests too much."

Ralph Santos III, 42, of Brentwood, said that as a lifelong Catholic, he was prepared to forgive the church for the mistakes and problems of the past. But the future, he said, would be a different story.

"They should know from this day forward the community is not going to forget," Mr. Santos said. "I forgive you for doing the wrong thing. But don't do it again."


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