Tracking Wayward Shepherds

New York Times
February 15, 2003

n a scathing report that adds another disturbing layer to the national scandal of pedophile priests, a grand jury found that Roman Catholic authorities on Long Island conspired for decades to protect scores of rogue clergymen rather than the young innocents they sexually ravaged. The diocese said it "unequivocally rejects" the finding. But the jury's nine-month inquiry found that lawyer-priests had run a "sham" counseling program whose mission was to keep the scandal secret, hold down settlement costs and intimidate parents not to complain.

The Suffolk County inquiry lays bare secret cover-up archives of 43 priests, the now familiar game of musical parishes for suspect abusers, and a braggart monsignor proud of his cost-effectiveness in offering parents fatherly counsel to choose silence or hush money over public action. Investigators found that at least 58 priests had been protected since the 1960's. The only one ever defrocked was judged guilty of an affair with an adult woman - a point that punctuates the hypocrisy of some church leaders on the subject of sex. Meanwhile the diocese's current leader, Bishop William Murphy, is busy with a criminal inquiry into the scandal in Boston, where he served as top deputy to Cardinal Bernard Law.

It is important to underline a positive force cited by investigators: close to half the witnesses who helped make the case against the diocese were clergymen. These good priests and nuns represented the cause of reform as they fought to protect children and their own vocations from further institutional risk. Beyond the church, we urge a change in New York law: More than 20 priests could have been indicted but for the current five-year statute of limitations, according to District Attorney Thomas J. Spota, one of Long Island's many alarmed Catholics.


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