Apology and an Accounting
Murphy: 'I Can Never Make up' to Victims What They Lost

By Rita Ciolli
Newsday [Long Island NY]
February 18, 2004

In a sweeping apology to Long Island Catholics along with the first full accounting of the toll of the sexual- abuse scandal here, Bishop William Murphy disclosed yesterday that 132 persons said they were sexually abused by 66 Catholic priests and religious brothers since the diocese was founded in 1957.

"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 CNN reported some of those results Monday, but the college said yesterday those figures are outdated and the report will have new ones.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 ROmand Catholic clergy to be relaesed 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

Diocesan clergy 42

Clergy form other dioceses 16

Non-diocesan clergy* 8

*Religious order clergy

'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 a1-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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