Dillon Blasts Spota
Says Suffolk Da Illegally Released Catholic Sex Abuse Report

By Bart Jones and Andrew Smith
Newsday [Long Island NY]
November 3, 2003

In an unusual public rebuke, Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon yesterday accused his Suffolk counterpart of illegally releasing a scathing grand jury report on the Catholic Church sex scandal.

Speaking to a crowd at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside, Dillon said Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota violated laws that govern the release of such reports when no indictments are handed up.

"There was no real practical reason for the district attorney to issue that salacious report," Dillon, a devout Catholic known for supporting traditional church doctrine, told about 150 people. The release "was not in accordance with the law."

Dillon was invited by the men's spirituality group to discuss "the crisis in the Catholic Church and the call of the laity."

The 182-page grand jury report, released by Spota in February, depicted in lurid detail how the hierarchy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre concealed alleged sexual abuse of children by some of its priests.

Spota was surprised by Dillon's comments. "Why would he wait a year to start this?" Spota said. "I think it [the report] was entirely appropriate."

Spota said it was clear from the reaction of Catholics and the general public that the investigation and release of the report were necessary. "We received many responses, 99 percent of them positive," Spota said. "The bishop [William F. Murphy] personally thanked me for doing it."

Phil Megna, a leader of the Long Island chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a group demanding accountability in the wake of the sex scandal, agreed with Spota. "I don't know why the exposure to truth would ever be illegal," he said.

Officials from the diocese could not be reached for comment last night.

Spota wondered why Dillon aired his complaints in a church, saying he had never spoken to him directly about it. But Dillon said he suggested to Spota early on in the investigations that they work together, and Spota said "no, he wanted to go his own way."

Dillon has been criticized by some for not aggressively pursuing sex abuse allegations in the diocese. Dillon said he has conducted full investigations and prosecuted two priests on child sex abuse charges, the Rev. Andrew Millar in 2000 and the Rev. Michael Hands in 2001. Hands had already been indicted by a Suffolk grand jury. He said the statute of limitations had expired on all other allegations against priests - a conclusion also reached by Spota.

Dillon said that generally grand jury reports with no indictments handed up are only released when they involve public officials or public agencies.

Even when such reports are made public, the accused must be notified and has 30 days to appeal to a higher court to have the report amended, he said, adding that none of that happened with the church report.

Spota "produced a litany of unproven allegations" and never gave the accused a fair chance to respond, Dillon said. He added that it is "unfair to dig up old matters and throw them out in the front of the public in a way that besmirches the reputations of people who can't defend themselves."

Spota said there was nothing illegal about the report and that no one was named in it. "Unfortunately, Mr. Dillon probably hasn't read the report that carefully," Spota said. "We didn't identify anybody in the report."

But Dillon said the accused were easily identifiable, and that Newsday quickly named them.

Dillon said another, "ambiguous" section of law does allow grand jury reports to be released even if no indictments are handed up, but only if district attorneys are recommending new legislation.

But he said Spota never made good on his pledge to lobby to extend the statute of limitations on sex crimes against children. "As far as I know he never lifted a finger to get the legislation passed," Dillon said. Spota says he has pushed for the legislation.


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