Catholic Civilian Board Member Told to Leave Panel
By Rita Ciolli
Newsday [Long Island NY]
December 16, 2003
A member of the civilian review board advising Bishop William Murphy on how to proceed against priests accused of sexually abusing minors said Tuesday that a top diocesan official told her to step down for speaking out in favor of settling the lawsuits brought by victims.
Lorraine Armet, a Lindenhurst child birth nurse, said she has kept the confidentiality of those proceedings. However, she will not continue to participate because she said Murphy is trying "to silence her" for siding with victims.
Responding to Armet's claims Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre first confirmed that the Rev. Robert Batule asked Armet to leave the board because she spoke with the media in violation of a verbal agreement not to have any contact with the press. While Armet had asked Batule to put the dismissal in writing, spokeswoman Joanne Novarro said she did not know whether Murphy would be sending a letter to Armet. However, she said Batule acted for the diocese because he is the bishop's representative to the board.
At that point, the diocese was not aware that Armet was speaking at a Parents For Megan's Law news conference today in Stony Brook. The group's leader, Laura Ahearn, has called for Murphy's resignation because she says he was part of a clerical establishment in the Archdiocese of Boston where he was second in command and failed to put adequate polices to protect children in place on Long Island.
Novarro later called back to say Batule told her there would be no letter to Armet. "The bishop said he is not going to remove her, he is not going to put it in writing," said Novarro, quoting Batule. Novarro said she didn't know why Batule did not initially reveal that he was overruled by Murphy.
"I feel like they are really playing games now," Armet said. "Father Batule was very curt and to the point. He made no bones about it. All off a sudden the story has changed," she added. "They are trying to silence me."
Armet said the diocese intended all along to fire her because neither she nor her husband, Ronald, who is also a member of the 11-person board, received the latest mailing with details of the January meeting that was sent to other board members. "If the bishop wanted me to stay on the board, why did they stop communicating with me?" Armet asked.
Novarro responded: "That may just be the mail."
The dispute began early this month when Armet joined victims' groups at a demonstration at St. Agnes Cathedral because she was outraged that the diocese chose to deny any sexual abuse of minors had occurred when it filed its answer last month to the lawsuits filed by 45 people who said they were abused by priests.
Armet said she and her husband were recommended to the diocese after the U.S. Bishops agreed in May 2002, to appoint oversight boards to quell the outrage over the revelations of abuse by priests and the cover-up by bishops. "They were looking for a couple who were parents," Armet said. "I am a nurse and I also work with the youth program in my diocese. My husband is a retired Suffolk police officer and a Protestant."
Armet praised her colleagues on the review board and its work and said she and her husband would have liked to continue serving. Asked if Long Island Catholics should have concerns about the integrity of the review board, Armet said, "No," that her problems were with the top administration of the diocese. "They should be concerned about the integrity of the chancery," she said.
The dispute comes at a critical juncture for the administrators of the diocese. The National Review Board set up by the U.S. Bishops is in the process of auditing all the procedures put in place to deal with the sexual abuse of minors. The results are scheduled to be released on Jan. 6. Bill Ryan, a spokesman for the board, last night said he didn't know if the dispute with Armet would be examined by the auditors as part of its evaluation.
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