Pressure on at Church
By Rita Ciolli
June 9, 2004
After being denied permission to use Catholic Church facilities by Bishop William Murphy and their pastor, St. Dominic parishioners will meet again tomorrow at a local Protestant church to discuss how to move their Oyster Bay parish beyond the priest sex abuse scandal.
The Concerned Families of St. Dominic Parish is holding its second gathering to keep the pressure on their pastor, Msgr. John Alesandro, who the group claims is too linked to local church scandal to lead the parish. The meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Brookville Reformed Church.
In declining to let the group meet on parish property or to turn over a mailing list of parishioners, Alesandro asked the group to use established church channels to communicate. "Our disagreement is not about dialogue, but about the methodology you are pursuing," Alesandro wrote in a letter last month to Geoffrey Boisi, one of the group's leaders.
The Concerned Families of St. Dominic Parish, which represents about 300 members, drew about 350 people to its first meeting in April. The heavy turnout surprised church leaders who had mostly dismissed their requests for greater clarity on what Alesandro knew about the scandal as a top diocesean leader for almost three decades.
At that meeting, a victim discussed how he was sexually abused by a former parish priest, and more than a dozen community members voiced frustrations about the leadership of St. Dominic. The parish had five priests accused of abuse, including popular former pastor Msgr. Charles Ribaudo, who denies any wrongdoing.
The uprising in the wealthy Oyster Bay parish has called attention throughout the diocese to how much leverage the laity can have with church leadership. "We showed that we have the support to continue," said Robert Quinn, another of the group's organizers.
The group, which includes some of the parish's biggest donors, appealed Alesandro's refusal to Murphy, asking to meet at any church property, and were again turned down, Quinn said.
In response, a diocesan spokesman repeated Murphy's support for Alesandro. "Our prior statement that the Bishop sees no objective reason to remove Msgr. Alesandro still stands," the Rev. James Vlaun said yesterday in an e-mail. "And he supports him in his pastoral decisions."
Parish trustee Eugene Souther, who supports Alesandro, said it was "unrealistic" to expect that Alesandro would let them use church facilities when their sole reason was to get rid of him. "If they all really belong to the same church that we all belong to they know darn well that nothing is going to be done. He is not going to quit and the bishop is not going to remove him." Souther said while he would want to resolve the concerns that families have, "if they are not happy in our parish the answer may be to move to another parish."
Meanwhile, Long Island Voice of the Faithful, a diocese-wide lay group that was started in response to the abuse scandal, and representatives of Murphy appear stalemated. After two meetings, both sides have not reached any common ground on recognition of VOTF and its demand to meet on church property, and the diocese's demands that the group rescind its call for Murphy's resignation and dissolve two charitable funds set up as alternatives to the church's fund-raising efforts.
Yesterday, VOTF and the diocese issued a joint statement that merely acknowledged a deep divide in the diocese. "Agreement was reached that trust between Catholics and their leaders has been fractured and that steps are needed to restore it," the statement read. No new meeting date was set.
On the agenda for tomorrow's meeting are ways to continue financial pressure on the parish, as well as plans for holding symbolic protests. Quinn said that leaders in the diocese were wrong to dismiss them as dissidents. "We are parents, we are the PTA, we are Eucharistic ministers, we are the church. If dividing the church is trying to get an open dialogue about the protection of children then I guess we have to accept that tag," he said.
The group has also set up a Web site, www.stdomsfamilies.org, with a link to the 2003 Suffolk County grand jury report that was critical of how the diocese handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests. While no names are mentioned in the report, Alesandro was a member of the key three-person team handling cases detailed in the report. Alesandro denies ever knowingly transferring a priest who had credible charges lodged against him.
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