Parishioners Lambaste Murphy in Sex Cases

By Rita Ciolli, Bart Jones and Erin Texeira
Newsday [Long Island NY]
April 28, 2004

About 400 members of one of Long Island's largest and richest parishes met last night in an outpouring of anger over the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal, with many of them lambasting Bishop William Murphy and their pastor, a key figure in the scandal.

While some in the overflow crowd said they came merely to get information about the simmering dispute at St. Dominic parish in Oyster Bay, others openly declared they had lost confidence in Msgr. John Alesandro. A few miles away, he opened a chapel last night for his supporters to gather.

"The moral authority of our pastor has been severely compromised," said meeting organizer Geoffrey T. Boisi, one of the top Catholic philanthropists in the nation and a vice chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

"It pains me to have to say he appears to continue to use methods of secrecy, purposeful procrastination, manipulation and choosing to safeguard image and reputation over the safety and well-being of our children's best interests," said Boisi, who is a former board chairman of Boston College.

He said he and other parishioners had met repeatedly with Alesandro and Murphy to try to get "straight answers" about the sex scandal. "I finally, agonizingly, realized that their answers were simply not credible and the trust and moral authority of our ecclesial chain of command was irreparably broken and we were in the midst of a liturgical 'perfect storm.'"

The meeting, which attracted people in a range of ages, was held at the Brookville Reformed Church in Brookville because Alesandro didn't allow the parishioners to meet at St. Dominic. On Friday, Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto backed off his offer to let them meet at Town Hall.

Last night, Alesandro opened the chapel at St. Dominic to parishioners. He did not attend, but about 120 of his supporters did, singing religious hymns and saying the rosary.

"I'm here to pray for a lot of healing," said Angela Barron. "There's pain and anger here, but he's a fine man. He's a good man." Her husband Ron said he thought many parishioners were angry about the church in general, and taking it out on Alesandro.

Other parishioners, most of them senior citizens, echoed their thoughts. "This is a very brilliant man and a very spiritual man," said one parishioner who did not want to be identified. She said Alesandro's supporters "far outnumber the dissenters."

Alesandro, a nationally recognized expert in canon law and former member of the three-man "intervention team" that handled cases of abusive priests in the diocese, has said he made efforts to heal the parish. Diocesan officials contend there are no grounds for his removal as pastor.

Beyond his alleged role in the sex abuse scandal, Alesandro has come under fire for issues such as renewing the contract of a parish basketball coach found with an adult video in his office.

At the Brookville church last night, cars were parked a mile up the street and Brookville police officers directed traffic.

The meeting was seen by some as a sign of the growing role of the laity in the Catholic Church following the nationwide sex abuse scandal. The parish is something of a Who's Who of the rich and powerful on Long Island with parishioners such as Charles Dolan, the founder of Cablevision, and Charles Wang, founder of Computer Associates. They did not attend either of the meetings.

In one of the Brookville meeting's more dramatic moments, John Salveson held up a photograph of himself as a freshman at St. Dominic High School more than three decades ago, and said that was what he looked like when he was sexually abused by the Rev. Robert Huneke between 1969 and 1976. He said that after getting nowhere with church officials for years, he and his family asked Alesandro for help in 1989, and were turned away again.

"What you are hearing from your monsignor, that he knew nothing about abusive priests being placed back in parishes, I beg to differ," Salveson said. "I'm often asked by my mother: What do you want? Every cardinal and bishop in this country who protected abusive priests needs to resign," he said, as the audience burst into applause.

Alesandro has not commented on Salveson's allegation. Huneke has since died. Salveson is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the diocese by alleged sex abuse victims.

Alesandro found at least one voice of support at the meeting. "You're undermining St. Dominic's and hurting the parish," Marie Knight told the crowd. "If you don't like it, move to another parish. What has he done here in his term as pastor that is so horrendous?"

As parishioners left the meeting, they were handed copies of a blistering Suffolk County grand jury report on the sex abuse scandal.


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