A Sentence and Censure
By Rita Ciolli
In sentencing the Rev. Michael Hands, a key figure in the Long Island Catholic sex abuse scandal, Nassau County Court Judge Donald DeRiggi yesterday raised vexing questions about the broader issue, including the very nature of the priesthood.
"The revelation of these things will cause a re-examination of what priests are ... what their roles are in society and in the church," said DeRiggi, a Catholic. "I don't understand how a priest can get up - in the Catholic Church, which so vehemently opposes fornication, adultery and homosexuality - preach these things and then go out and violate them."
[Photo captions: The Rev. Michael Hands, who agreed to a plea bargain
for sexually abusing a teen, arrives at Nassau County Court for sentencing
yesterday. Judge Donald DeRiggi sentenced Hands yesterday.]
In an attempt to explain his behavior, Hands said publicly last year that he had been abused as a teen by Msgr. Charles "Bud" Ribaudo, who was then chaplain at Trinity High School in Hicksville. While Ribaudo, who later became a popular pastor at an Oyster Bay parish, has denied Hands' allegation, Bishop William Murphy suspended Ribaudo as a priest. Ribaudo retired after that. Meanwhile, in order to obtain a more lenient sentence, Hands became a cooperating witness for the Suffolk County grand jury that investigated how abuse cases were handled in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
As expected, DeRiggi yesterday imposed a sentence of 6 months in jail and 5 years of probation to run concurrently with the 2-year jail term Hands received last week from Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow. DeRiggi told Hands he will be on probation for 5 years after he serves about 16 months in Suffolk.
A violation of probation could send him to prison for up to 4 years, the judge warned, and Hands nodded his head in agreement. Hands also agreed to warrantless searches of his person and premises any time during the probationary term.
In his apology, Hands admitted that his sexual relationship with the teen was immoral and illegal. "I repent of my actions. I am committed to never, never repeating such actions. Humbly, I ask forgiveness."
Then, Hands repeated his charge that Ribaudo molested him more than two decades ago at Trinity High School in Hicksville. "There was no reason for the man to put his hands in my underwear," Hands said. Hands, however, said "that abuse was not what damaged me the most sexually."
"He fed me one lie after another," said Hands, adding that Ribaudo told him the reason he had no friends in his new school was because he didn't know how to love. "His fondling me was a way of showing me he loved me," Hands said.
Ribaudo has continually denied any "sexual relationship" with Hands. The latest and most detailed rebuttal to Hands is contained in an e-mail statement that Ribaudo circulated in recent days to friends. Hands learned of Ribaudo's latest denial just minutes before he came into the courtroom yesterday, said his lawyer, Peter Rubin.
The brief and low-key Nassau proceeding was in contrast to the sentencing in Suffolk County when Hands' victim and the victim's parents gave lengthy and emotional statements about the devastation he caused in their family life.
But outside the courtroom, Kathleen Hands, the priest's younger sister, said her brother's behavior was totally wrong. "However, he is not the monster that teen made him out to be" in last week's sentencing, she said.
Hands' sister also sought to more fully explain her brother's relationship with his mentor, the priest she still fondly calls Father Bud. She described Ribaudo as a close family friend who attended her brother's ordination 11 years ago and the big party afterward. In her opinion, the sexual confusion of both men destroyed their otherwise successful lives as priests.
"Father Bud was an amazing priest, people looked forward to going to church just to hear him preach. Michael Hands was an extraordinary priest, he did so much good for so many people," she said. Her reflections, made as she put her hand on the stroller where her infant daughter slept, expressed some of the concerns DeRiggi articulated earlier from the bench.
The judge, noting that he was a Catholic who attended Chaminade High School in Mineola, Villanova University and St. John's University law school, said he dealt with priests his entire life. "I find it "incomprehensible that a priest would have sex" with a teenage boy, he said.
"I have to tell you, I always thought that the love of Jesus Christ was enough for a priest," DeRiggi told Hands. He added that priests who couldn't keep a vow of celibacy should leave, and if priests, like all human beings, have a need for physical love, then perhaps the church needs to change.
"Maybe the assumptions we have about priests have to be re-evaluated," DeRiggi said.
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