DIOCESE OF ROCKVILLE CENTRE NY
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
No issue confronting the Church in the United States has caused more pain and hurt than the sad and ugly fact that over the past several decades a number of priests abused their priestly role and the trust of children and minors through acts of sexual abuse. This horrific reality has been made worse by the unintentional mistakes we bishops made in handling some of these cases. Even acting with good intentions, bishops were callous to the enormity of the harm sexual abuse does to a child or minor, often preferring to handle these issues administratively with little or no understanding of the tremendous havoc caused by these priests. For all this I have apologized many times before. I apologize again because I know that, as a Catholic bishop in the United States, I will go to my grave with the knowledge that I can never make up or restore to the victims the innocence lost and suffering experienced day in and day out by those who were victimized as well as their families. May the Lord grant them peace and may he forgive any and all of us for any wrong we have done in the conduct of our own ministry.
On February 27, two documents commissioned by the United States Bishops' Conference will be made public. The first is the Report by the John Jay College here in New York. This is a quantitative analysis of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy from 1950 to 2002. The second will be a qualitative report by the National Review Board based on interviews that Board conducted with about sixty individuals including bishops. What form the latter will take I do not know. I do know that both should be seen as part of the ongoing commitment of the U.S. bishops to be as transparent as possible with the public about what has happened these past several decades while offering whatever insights such studies can give us to help prevent any of the mistakes of the past to occur ever again. Hindsight helps us to learn from the past and to improve the future. I have the highest regard for my predecessors and their advisors. I do not believe that anyone in a position of responsibility ever acted except in the best interests of all and certainly never with any intention of ever harming a child. While we cannot change the past, we can build on it, and we bishops pray that, with the help of all our brothers and sisters in the Church, we are doing all we can to make sure that the mistakes of the past are never repeated.
The John Jay Report
Before reviewing with you what this diocese has been doing and will continue to do, let me share with you the information we provided about the Diocese of Rockville Centre which is part of the overall National Report that the John Jay College will soon publish. I do this so that everyone on Long Island will know as much as I do about what has occurred here since the founding of the diocese in 1957. These statistics are as accurate as my colleagues have been able to make them although we all must accept the fact that the lack of precise information and exact records at certain moments in the past have left us without mathematical certitude. Because I did not want in any way to minimize the seriousness of this issue, I have asked my colleagues to report on every incident, even those which might seem to some to be marginal.
From the foundation of the diocese in 1957 till June 2002:
The diocese referred the allegations made against the 24 clergy not of our diocese to their respective orders or dioceses.
As you may remember, the late Bishop McGann set up a Special Fund to meet expenses not covered by insurance. The total amount the diocese has paid in settlements, expenses and for therapy for the victims, whether clergy related or not, amounts to a $3.8 million.
The percentage of accusations by the decade in which the incidents occurred
These same statistics indicate that the average number of years between
the occurrence of an incident and the report of the incident was
Another way of understanding the statistics regarding the number of priests
accused is to place the number of priests accused in each decade in relation
to the number of priests serving in the Diocese during that same decade.
This would give the following information: The percentage of accused in
relation to the number of priests serving in the Diocese was
If one averages those percentages of six decades, the overall percentage of the number of priests accused in relation to the number of priests serving in the diocese from its foundation is 2.08%. The high point is during the 1960s and 1970s. The low is the 1990s and the 2000s with a steady decrease after the 1970s. Please note that this is as accurate as my colleagues and I could make it. One is one too many. Yet after the major decades of the 1960s and 70s, there has been a steady decrease in the past more than twenty years.
The current situation in the diocese
Now that you have all the material this diocese gave to the compilers of the John Jay Report to be released on February 27, allow me to return to the essential responsibility I have of providing you with a synopsis of the current state of the diocese's handling of these issues. There is a fundamental premise that underlies all that I tell you, one that I have repeated time and again. The abuse of one child is one too many. Such abuse is a sin, a horrific betrayal of trust and a crime that should be and is reported to the civil authorities as soon as we have information. No clergy about whom there has been a credible accusation of the sexual abuse of a minor is in pastoral ministry and I pledge to you that I will not place in pastoral ministry ever any clergy about whom we have any credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor. Any priest who has been accused and that accusation is unfounded must be returned to pastoral ministry as an act of justice toward the accused. That will happen only after others independent of me have investigated, made their determinations and had their conclusions processed through the Diocesan Review Board which makes recommendations to me. I have pledged that I will never be less stringent than the Review Board's recommendations.
The independent auditors of the Gavin group investigated the procedures and practices of this diocese during a review from October 20-23, 2003. The diocese, as the Audit Report of January 6, 2004 noted, has been found in full compliance of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that was approved by the bishops in June 2002. While this is a reason to be grateful to all those who have worked so hard to put into place the structures and practices to protect children and minors, it can never be an excuse for lessening our commitment or our vigilance. Our children are our most precious gift from God. The suffering and anguish that never leaves those who have been abused are an ever present reminder that we failed in the past and, unless we keep the very real faces of the victims and their families before our eyes, we can possibly fail again. For that reason I keep in my breviary a photo, given to me by his mother, of a young man in his altar boy cassock and surplice. He committed suicide when he was in his 20s because of abuse he suffered from a priest when all he wanted to do was serve the Lord at his holy altar.
When I came to this diocese in September 2001, we had four outstanding cases known to my colleagues. I addressed them in my first months here. One was in jail; a second awaiting sentence; two had responded to therapy positively according to the experts but I removed them from even limited pastoral ministry once I had reviewed their files and spoken to them personally. Of those four, two have been laicized and we are awaiting the response for the request we made to the Holy See for the other two to be laicized. All of them are, of course, removed from any priestly ministry whatsoever.
In 2002, the diocese reviewed all the priest personnel files. We acted on any information in those files that indicated that a priest had been accused of sexual abuse. Often the information was scanty. The records we do have point to the fact that, whenever there was sufficient information, my predecessors sought professional counsel and help. They based their decisions on that counsel and outside expertise. Today we have more information and are better educated about the phenomenon of sex abuse and its unrelenting and tragic consequences. Nothing can rectify the past but we can learn from it and seek to do our best now and in the future.
Following the charter
To that end, I want to assure you that we are following the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, are using the new norms or particular Church law for handling the priests accused and have in place the structures and programs we must have. Because this is a whole new challenge to us all, we can make no boast about what we are trying to do and we know we can improve. Sadly but truly we have had to learn by doing. We discover along the way with the best intentions we don't always achieve the results we had hoped for. The diocese has been blessed with the expertise and generous help of a large number of extraordinary women and men who share our anguish and our commitment and assist the diocese in fulfilling our obligations and responsibilities. This should be a reassurance to all the faithful, and in fact, all the people of Long Island.
May I review them with you? The three-person pastoral intervention team composed of a priest, a social worker and a former Nassau Police Commissioner, has served us well since May 2002. They have born the brunt of the work and have done it with distinction. They have been the first "diocesan people" a victim or an accused priest would meet. I am extremely grateful to them for providing therapy to victims, dealing with the civil authorities and addressing the priests. The Diocesan Review Board composed of 11 persons from various backgrounds, including law enforcement, the professional therapeutic world, parents, a priest, the parent of a victim and a victim, have reviewed all the cases we have had and made their recommendations to me. I have always followed their recommendations. Recently I met with them for the first time since their initial meeting inviting them to share their thoughts with me. I will be writing to each of them in the near future to seek their suggestions as to how we might improve our handling of these cases. While I pray we will never again have another instance of abuse of a child or minor, we need to be ever vigilant.
The Office for the Protection of Children and Young People is headed by Eileen Puglisi, whose own credentials include doing similar work for the New York State Office of Mental Health. She coordinates all this work and continues to be the person who monitors the whole process and oversees our efforts in a variety of areas.
Among these are the ongoing training programs that are mandatory for all who work for or volunteer their services to the diocese. Every one of us must participate in the Virtus Program which trains us to recognize the signs of a sexual predator and teaches us how to react to any indications of sexual abuse. Background checks on every person, employed or volunteering in the diocese, are in process with an independent professional company. While this will take time because of the large numbers of employed and volunteers, this is now a regular part of our hiring process. The office also sees to it that anyone making an allegation is told to report to the civil authorities. The diocese does the same because I have made this diocese a mandated reporter even though there is yet to be a law passed by the state mandating this. I am happy to report that the diocese enjoys a good relationship of mutual cooperation with the District Attorneys of Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
Care for the abused
One of the most important elements in all of this is care for the victims. Everyone who has been abused is offered the therapy that is deemed necessary to help him or her. To date the cost of this is born by the Special Fund set up by Bishop McGann which has more than $10 million in it. I have decided that we will continue to use that money to assist victims until it is exhausted.
I have met personally with any victims who were open to meeting with me. I can understand why it may be difficult for some even to talk with me as a bishop and priest. However, I place myself totally at their disposition if they feel I can be of help in any way. Those who live far away and are willing to accept my call have been called on the phone by me. Those locally who are open to meeting with me I speak to face to face. To each and every one of them I offer my apologies for what has happened to them and I seek to be as helpful as I can be, listening to their stories and trying as best I can to be brother and priest to them. Their stories are heart-wrenching. They all have been so broken by what has been done to them. They often blame themselves when they should not. They feel guilt when they are guiltless. With all my own failings before me, I confess to you all that no other experience has opened up to me in a deep, emotional way to my own inadequacies because I want so much to reach out and bring peace to the afflicted whose own experiences have been so devastating. Day after day, they live this hell. And all I can do is so inadequate. Daily I place this before the Lord asking him to give them some respite from their sufferings, some peace to their hearts.
The priests accused
You have a right to know what has happened to the priests about whom there have been credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors. I have already told you that none of them is in pastoral ministry, nor will they be. Many of them have died. Six of them were eligible for retirement or for medical disability. I have exercised my right according to the new Norms to place these six on administrative leave indefinitely. These have been taken out of pastoral ministry and are not permitted to exercise any pastoral ministry nor to present themselves as priests in public. Two others have been laicized at their request. The Review Board declared one priest to have insufficient evidence against him. I submitted his case to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which exonerated him after a review of the evidence and he has been returned to ministry. The cases of the remaining eleven are currently being examined by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. We must never cease to pray for them. We must never cease to pray for all our active and retired priests. And I ask for your prayers for me and my brother bishops that we might fulfill our responsibilities as pastors toward victims, toward priests, and all the people of our parishes whose lives have been affected by them.
Priests and parishes
Pastors tell me of the deep scars left in our parishes where priests who have abused children and minors have served. While I was able to respond personally to a few of these parishes, I confess with deep regret that I should have been more available to some of the pastors and their people during these past two years. The priests of this diocese have been convulsed as have been all our people by the Suffolk County Grand Jury Report. In my attempts to respond to pressing demands at the diocesan level I sometimes neglected the sufferings of priests and people especially in those parishes where these priests had ministered. To my brother priests who needed me, I am sorry. To all of you who have not seen me present enough to you I can say only that I wish I could have done more. Believe me I share your pain. I share your sense of shame and I pray that the Lord who sees our hearts from the cross will see the good intentions in the hearts of us all who want only to rectify what had gone wrong. To everyone who wishes to reach out to those who have been abused, to everyone who wants to support priests of integrity, all of our priests, I can say only that I agree with you and am one with you in those worthy commitments.
Permit me a word about lawsuits against the diocese. There are a few lawsuits brought by individuals and three lawsuits brought by groups of plaintiffs against some of the accused priests and against me and the diocese. In the latter there is a charge of fraud against the diocese. This is simply not true but it is up to the law to determine if my honest judgment fits the facts. To that end, the diocese must defend itself against any charges it believes to be false. It is the right of every person and institution in our country to defend one's innocence until a judgment can be made by the proper legal authority. The diocese will do so in a responsible and upright manner. In the meantime I want to assure all of you, and especially the victims, that this does not mean any lessening of our commitment to outreach to the victims and their families. Even in, and especially during, this time of legal procedures, my colleagues and I want to serve every victim pastorally. There is no statute of limitations on our desire to care for and offer therapy to those who are suffering. It is my prayer that we can move beyond the legal situations we currently must address so that we can continue to do what we are called to do as Church: be the voice and hand and heart of a loving Christ who calls us to serve everyone, especially those who suffer most.
This past year the diocese published its booklet on Diocesan Norms for the Protection of Children and Minors in both English and Spanish. It is available from that office as well as posted on the diocesan website. This describes in greater detail than this report all that we have developed and all we are trying to do.
Priests and seminarians
The priests of this diocese meet together in Clergy Conference days at least once a year. We have had three since I became bishop two and a half years ago. Needless to say two of them concentrated on these issues. In addition, we cancelled one set of Clergy Conference days in order to bring in experts who worked with the priests on "boundary issues." These obligatory meetings examined the ways we priests relate to the laity, children and minors to help us discern appropriate and inappropriate kinds of relationships. In addition, all the priests, like all those who work for volunteer in the Church have been required to take part in the Virtus Program mentioned above. All these aids are necessary and important. However the most important way we priests can guard against these sins and crimes is by living a holy, chaste, celibate life every day of our lives as an expression of who we are, men who love the Lord Jesus and, in union with him, seek to serve all God's people in his Church and beyond.
One important area of our renewed commitment is that of the admission of candidates to the seminary and the formation of men in the seminary to be future priests. No man is admitted to the seminary until he has successfully completed two batteries of psychological tests and interviews and we have reports that there is no harmful pathology present. The rector and faculty of the seminary have been educated to recognize certain behavior traits as warning signs. A minimum of five years in the seminary is required of every candidate and the majority are in formation for a longer period. During that period they are constantly under the scrutiny of the faculty and others. We are all convinced that we should not present a man for ordination if there is any indication that he cannot live a holy chaste celibate life free from any pathologies that would be harmful to himself or others.
Looking to the future
There is so much more to be done. As a diocese we must continue above all to recognize and ease the suffering caused by clergy sexual abuse. I have been discussing with a few people the need to offer greater spiritual help to the victims who now are receiving professional therapy. I would want us to develop support groups where that is possible. I would want the priests, religious and laity to support one another through this time of suffering and offer me, as some of you have, suggestions on how the diocese can improve its own procedures and practices. Some who have been most critical of the diocese have actually given me ideas that have improved our outreach. I am grateful to them for that because I am convinced that the people of this diocese, whatever their opinion about a specific person or a specific action, so love the Church that they want only to see her cleansed from these horrific stains and restored to the integrity that comes only from confession, conversion, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Ultimately that is what we must be about. As Lent approaches I plead with myself and with all of you to make this Lent a time of profound conversion and renewal of heart and hope. In his message for Lent, the Holy Father so justly focuses on children asking us to heed the words of the Lord "whoever receives one such child in my name receives me." All of the children of our diocesan family should be before our eyes as we seek to be forgiven for the children who have been abused. Of them the Holy Father has asked "What evil have these children done to merit such suffering? From a human standpoint it is not easy, indeed it may be impossible, to answer this disturbing question. Only faith can make us begin to understand so profound an abyss of suffering. By becoming 'obedient unto death, even death on a cross,' Jesus took human suffering on himself and illuminated it with the radiant light of his resurrection." With this hope born of faith in the death and resurrection of Christ who rescues us from sin and death and calls us to live in communion with him and one another, "may this Lent -- and the rest of our lives -- be a time of even greater concern for the needs of children, in our own families, in our Church and society as a whole which so need his purification: for they are the future of humanity."
May God grant us the grace and the strength to fulfill his will in our lives and in the Church now and forever.
"For all this I have apologized many times before. I apologize again because I know that, as a Catholic bishop in the United States, I will go to my grave with the knowledge that I can never make up or restore to the victims the innocence lost and suffering experienced day in and day out by those who were victimized as well as their families," Murphy said in his most conciliatory comments yet.
The leader of Long Island Catholics said the diocese has paid more than $3.8 million for therapy and legal settlements and the remaining $10 million currently set aside in a special fund will be used "to assist victims until it is exhausted." However, the statement went on to explain that because the multiple lawsuits brought by victims allege fraud, the diocese will defend itself in a "responsible and upright manner" until a court judgment is made.
The bishop's accounting and expressions of remorse come in an 11-page letter along with color charts that Murphy plans to mail to the 414,000 Catholic homes on Long Island. The diocesan statement includes the local statistics provided to researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, which is conducting a survey for the United States Conference of Bishops. The diocese was planning to release the numbers Feb. 27 in conjunction with the national results compiled by John Jay College. CNN reported some of those results Monday, but the college said yesterday those figures are outdated and the report will have new ones.
Murphy, who is in Rome, authorized the early release of his letter yesterday after the CNN report, said the Rev. James Vlaun, a spokesman for the diocese. Vlaun said the statement is also posted on the diocesan Web site and the diocese is considering a separate interactive page that will allow readers to respond to the bishop.
Murphy's letter does not name any individual priest. It said 42 of the 66 clergy accused were diocesan priests. It said four were exonerated and none of the others are now in the pastoral ministry.
The 24 others accused included 16 priests from other dioceses and eight religious brothers, the letter said. Those claims were referred to the bishops or superiors who supervised them, and the outcomes of their cases were not disclosed.
The 42 priests accused represent 2.08 percent of all the priests who have ever served in the diocese. The alleged abuse incidents peaked in the 1970s when 29 percent occurred; 26 percent occurred in the 1960s and 23 percent in the 1980s, the report said. Only 1 percent occurred since 2000, though child abuse experts say that it often takes years for victims to come to terms with what happened and take action.
Before being named head of the Long Island diocese in September 2001, Murphy was for eight years second in command in Boston, where the largest number of documented abuse cases occurred over many decades. Murphy recently has come under renewed criticism of his role in Boston.
Murphy supporters have said that he has explained fully his role in Boston and has done nothing wrong and that critics and the media have repeatedly highlighted the negative.
Along with decreased church attendance and financial contributions on Long Island, Murphy is dealing with forceful complaints about his leadership from his priests here. Friday, Murphy spent four hours meeting with four priests representing the more than 200 who attended a session last month in which Murphy was criticized for banning Voice of the Faithful, a group of Catholics critical of the church's response to abuse allegations, from meeting on church property and for spending more than $1.6 million renovating his new residence. A report to the Long Island priests on some of the issues raised at that meeting is expected to be released today.
In this letter, Murphy says no issue has caused the U.S. church more pain and hurt and he accepts some responsibility for the bishops who paid more attention to the priests than the children. "This horrific reality has been made worse by the unintentional mistakes we bishops made in handling some of these cases," Murphy wrote. "Even acting with good intentions, bishops were callous to the enormity of the harm sexual abuse does to a child or minor, often preferring to handle these issues administratively with little or no understanding of the tremendous havoc caused by these priests."
David Cerulli, head of New York Chapter of SNAP, a victims group, said that despite all the numbers, there is little specific information. "There are no names. We don't know who these guys are, where they are and what are they doing," he said.
Cerulli, a member of the national SNAP board, noted that Murphy's apology comes at a time when he is under increased criticism for being part of the Boston hierarchy. Just last week, in response to charges of complicity in the cover-up made by Laura Ahearn, co-director of Parents for Megan's Law, Murphy released a rebuttal to her charges saying he never returned an accused priest to a ministry that would allow him contact with minors.
"The whole tone of the letter just strikes me as the same mea culpa Cardinal Law did when he was in so much trouble in Boston," said Cerulli, referring to Murphy's mentor who resigned in December 2002 in an effort to quell the scandal there. "Murphy's back is against the wall, so now he is going to present this wonderful caring side that none of us knew was there."
Voice of the Faithful also took issue with Murphy's choice of words in describing the crisis. "The problem is not that the bishops handled sexual abuse cases 'administratively' but that they actively participated in a cover-up that perpetuated the problem. This is one of the reasons that Catholics are calling for accountability," said Dan Bartley, co-director of the Long Island chapter of the national group.
Murphy flew to Rome this past weekend to check on the status of the cases of 11 Rockville Centre priests accused of abuse. In accounting for the other current Long Island priests accused of abuse, Murphy said six took retirement or medical disability status. Those six are permanently suspended from representing themselves in public as priests. One priest has been returned to ministry after being cleared by a diocesan tribunal, as well as by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, which has the final say on whether a priest should be prosecuted under church law. Two others have been defrocked.
Murphy cautioned that the "lack of precise information and exact records at certain moments in the past have left us without mathematical certitude." Since the diocese was founded in 1957, some of the diocesan priests accused of abuse have died and four were exonerated, he said.
Murphy expresses regret that he was not more available in the past two years to the pastor and parishioners where abuse occurred.
"To my brother priests who needed me, I am sorry," Murphy said.
The bishop also offers the opinion that none of his predecessors and their advisers "ever acted except in the best interests of all and certainly never with any intention of ever harming a child." That statement is contradicted by a Suffolk County grand jury report released last year that found that diocesan officials "agreed to engage in conduct that resulted in the prevention, hindrance and delay in the discovery of criminal conduct by priests."
The Crisis Here
Included in the John Jay College report on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy to be released later this month is a look at the extent of the scandal in the Diocese of Rockville Centre since its establishment in 1957.
Total accused since 1957: 66
'I know that, as a Catholic biship in the United States, I will go to my grave with the knowledge that I can never make up or restore to the vicitms the innocence lost.' - Bishop William Murphy, writing yesterday.
Violations of Trust
Two priests, the Rev. Michael Hands and the Rev. Andrew Millar, have been sentenced to jail on sodomy charges in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Both have been defrocked.
The Rev. Michael Hands
Hands was sentenced to 2 years jail time and probation by Suffolk County after admitting he sodomized a 14-year-old boy in 2001. His term was to run concurrently with a sentence of 6 months in jail and probation from Nassau County. Hands was ordained in 1993 and served at three parishes, including St. Raphael in East Meadow, where he was serving at the time of his arrest.
The Rev. Andrew Millar
Millar, a retired priest, received a 1-to-3 year prison sentence after admitting he sodomized a learning-disabled boy in May 2000. He was living in the rectory of St. Peter and Paul's Church in Manorville at the time of his arrest. Millar pleaded guilty to third-degree sodomy, but was unable to persuade the sentencing judge to allow him to serve his time in a church-sponsored facility in Missouri.
SOURCES: Diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Young People, staff reporting
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