133 Complaints of Sex Abuse in 45 Years, L.I. Diocese Says

By Bruce Lambert
New York Times
February 19, 2004

new Roman Catholic Church report on child sex abuse in its Long Island diocese says that 132 people have filed complaints against 66 priests over a 45-year period.

Those numbers are being added to national totals that the John Jay College of Criminal Justice is compiling in a report next week for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop William F. Murphy, who took the helm of the Diocese of Rockville Centre two years ago, apologized for the "horrific reality" of abuse and the church's mishandling of complaints. In a written statement, he said that no church issue "has caused more pain and hurt than the sad and ugly fact that over the past several decades a number of priests abused their priestly role and the trust of children and minors through acts of sexual abuse."

The bishop's statement won some praise. But critics like Dan Bartley, co-chairman of the lay group Voice of the Faithful, said that the bishop had taken the easy way by apologizing for problems occurring on Long Island before his arrival while still denying allegations that he shielded accused priests while he was serving in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Laura Ahearn, a national advocate on abuse cases, criticized the bishop for defending his predecessors on Long Island as acting "in the best interests of all." She cited a Suffolk County grand jury finding last year that the diocese had protected abusive priests and ignored victims.

The reported numbers show only the tip of the problem since studies show that 90 percent of victims never file complaints, said David J. Cerulli, director of the New York City chapter of the Survivors Network Against Priest Abuse. Some complaints went unrecorded, like his own case in Allentown, Pa., he said.

On Long Island, four accused priests were exonerated, and none of the others is serving as a pastor, the bishop said. Many are retired or dead.

So far the diocese has paid $3.8 million for therapy, expenses and legal settlements. The study and the bishop's statement, first reported by Newsday, will be mailed to 414,000 Catholic households in the diocese, covering Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

The statistics, dating from the diocese's creation in 1957 through June 2002, show a peak of incidents in the 1970's. Lower numbers in later years may reflect a delay in complaints, often filed years later in adulthood. On average, incidents in the 1950's were not reported until 42 years later, when abuse was more publicized.

In a related development, leaders of the diocese's priests, who held an extraordinary meeting with the bishop last month to air concerns over abuse and other issues, issued a follow-up report.

The bishop will appoint representatives to talk with people from Voice of the Faithful, which was formed in reaction to the abuse issue, the report said. Many priests advocated an end to the bishop's ban against the group's meeting on church property. The report also said that the bishop would review and change the diocese's internal structure to make it more responsive.


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