Defends himself in 'open letter' to friends
By Rita Ciolli
Msgr. Charles "Bud" Ribaudo, the former pastor of a wealthy North Shore Catholic parish who has been a silent but central figure in the Long Island abuse scandal, is now defending himself, saying "my heart is broken and my embarrassment is great."
In an e-mail dated March 5 that Ribaudo circulated to close friends, he denies that he had a "sexual relationship" with the Rev. Michael Hands or any other student at Trinity High School in Hicksville, where he was chaplain in the 1970s and 1980s. Ribaudo also is critical of the Diocese of Rockville Centre for turning over his confidential personnel file to the Suffolk grand jury, which later incorporated some of the information into its scathing report on abusive priests of the diocese.
[Photo caption: Msgr. Charles Ribaudo was implicated by the Rev. Michael
Ribaudo's statement indirectly confirms that he is the unidentified "Priest O" of the grand jury report who is described "as having the art of seducing teenage boys down to a science." He also fails to address the most serious allegation in the report, the testimony of a grand jury witness who said Ribaudo sodomized him as a boy.
In an "open letter" obtained by Newsday, Ribaudo said he is responding now "because I can't handle all the personal calls and letters or the stress and confusion that my silence has caused among my friends and in the Oyster Bay community."
Peter Rubin, Hands' lawyer, calls the statements "Clintonesque" and said nothing refutes Hands' grand jury testimony or court statements.
St. Dominic's, the Oyster Bay parish where he formerly served for 15 years and was considered a prolific fund-raiser for the church and school, is bitterly fractionalized over the former pastor. His supporters say he is innocent and blame Bishop William Murphy and the media for treating him unfairly. Critics of Ribaudo want him renounced, his portrait in the church vestibule removed and current and former students at the parish schools questioned about whether the pastor ever touched them.
Msgr. John Alesandro, the current pastor at St. Dominic's, declined to comment directly on Ribaudo's letter, but said, "Hopefully, it will clarify things for a lot of people and clear up any confusion in their minds ... People have just heard accusations and they haven't heard any response."
Many of Ribaudo's powerful and influential supporters who still fly him around the country on golf trips and to their vacation homes have been urging their former pastor to tell his version of what happened to end some of the turmoil.
"His silence did not help him," said Wesley Wood, a trustee of the parish and a close ally who serves as a spokesman for Ribaudo. "The community is just totally confused, there are rumors and misinformation," said Wood, a marketing entrepreneur. "Bud was the bridge to a lot of fairly wealthy people here in Oyster Bay who supported the parish. That support has deteriorated." Wood said the parish pledges for the Annual Bishop's Appeal, the diocese's main fund-raiser, are down 40 percent.
Ribaudo was pulled into the swirls of the scandal by Hands, who was a student at Trinity High School when Ribaudo was the chaplain. Hands, who was sentenced in Suffolk County last week to 2 years in jail for sexually abusing a 13-year-old teen, sought to mitigate his own sexual misconduct by saying his former mentor touched him inappropriately. Hands is to be sentenced today in Nassau County for his abuse of the same teen.
After ordering Ribaudo to get a psychiatric evaluation in which he said there may have been as many as a dozen boys he treated like Hands, Murphy suspended Ribaudo's ability to act as a priest in March 2002 and Ribaudo then retired.
Ribaudo remained in the headlines, however, because of Hands, who became a cooperating witness for the Suffolk County grand jury and gave a detailed statement to civil attorneys in order to get a more lenient sentence for himself.
"I feel that I am a sentence in a paragraph in a chapter in a larger epic of the scandal in my Church," Ribaudo wrote. While Ribaudo receives a small pension, his friends say the diocese is not providing him with any housing assistance, requiring family and friends to help out.
Ribaudo, who also wrote, "I was a good pastor. I wasn't perfect, nor did I ever claim to be. I was real and human," has declined requests to be interviewed. Murphy had no comment on the letter, a spokeswoman for the diocese said.
Asked why Ribaudo did not explain the detailed sodomy account in the grand jury report, Wood said he wanted to "address the large scheme of things in the grand jury report. What he didn't want to address was the specifics of one or two of the allegations. That wouldn't be fair for him or the people who made those allegations."
One of the grand jury witnesses against Ribaudo, who testified that Ribaudo attempted to fondle him, reacted negatively to the statement yesterday. "Despite what appears to be massive factual evidence that he is a sexual predator ... he continues to be in denial," said the witness, who wants to remain anonymous.
In his statement, Ribaudo says, "I never had a sexual relationship with Michael Hands, and he admitted that, or with any other student." He hints that perhaps Hands made the charge because he "was seeking some sympathy in his own difficulties.
"In my interview with a doctor, I was asked how many others I had a relationship with like Michael Hands. I responded that over the fourteen years I was at Trinity it was probably about a dozen. I explained that the context, as with Michael Hands, was one of encouragement, affection and support.
But Rubin said, "He did not have a sexual relationship with my client, he had his hands inside his underwear. So, he is saying there are 12 other kids he did that with."
Wood said that Ribaudo insists that people are misunderstanding his gregarious, physically demonstrative personality. "I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and certainly never intended to harm or abuse anyone. I did not admit that I had sexually abused anyone, nor did I ever," Ribaudo said.
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