Murphy Calls in Mediator in Sex Abuse Cases:
Bishop Murphy Taps D.C. Attorney to Help Resolve Cases of Sexual Abuse of Teenagers in East Meadow Parish
By Rita Ciolli
Newsday [Long Island NY]
June 14, 2004
In a bold effort to demonstrate that the Diocese of Rockville Centre has a "sincere commitment" to victims of sexual abuse, Bishop William Murphy has hired a prominent Washington attorney to work as an independent mediator at St. Raphael parish in East Meadow.
Parishioners there received a written notice yesterday saying the diocese wanted to find a "just and equitable" resolution for the families of the teens who were raped and sodomized by the parish's former youth minister, Matthew Maiello.
Mark H. Tuohey, the newly named special counsel, said he expected the effort in East Meadow to be expanded to other parishes where priests had sexually abused minors.
"There is no doubt in my mind that this will go beyond St. Raphael," said Tuohey, who emphasized in a telephone interview that he reports directly to the bishop. "This is a new approach that can be a model for moving forward to other situations," he said. Actively tracking down victims goes further than what has been done in other dioceses, according to Tuohey.
"The process of outreach is quite novel, but it is an important component. The church has an obligation to finding these people," Tuohey said. "Bishop Murphy feels very strongly about this and has grown in his thoughts about this," Tuohey added.
Although this new process could short-circuit costly trials that could embarrass the diocese as well as further traumatize the abuse victims, Tuohey said mediation was independent of the lawsuits already filed by victims of Maiello, but they also could be included if the plaintiffs wanted to try the mediation process. The diocese decided to act now because it recently learned that there were more victims of Maiello, he said.
Asked why Murphy was changing his approach now, the bishop told the Rev. James Vlaun, his spokesman, late last week, "We learn as we go along." Vlaun said the bishop now realizes "that people need closure" and that resolution is more important to the bishop than it was before.
Tuohey would not discuss pending litigation such as the multiple lawsuits brought by more than 40 victims of Long Island priests whose legal claims are technically too late. In those cases, the victims are asking a judge to allow the cases to proceed because the diocese allegedly committed fraud in covering up the problem.
Vlaun said the bishop advises against seeing Tuohey's role as solely for ending lawsuits. "It is not about settlement as much as seeking resolution in a just and equitable way," said Vlaun.
Tuohey and Murphy both serve as trustees of Catholic University of American Washington. Tuohey said Murphy approached him within the past few months and said, "I would like to involve you in the problem I am struggling with in this diocese."
Tuohey, who served in the U.S. Justice Department during the administration of former President Jimmy Carter, was the deputy independent counsel for the Whitewater investigation of former President Bill Clinton in 1994 and 1995. In that role, he led the investigation into the suicide of former White House counsel Vincent Foster. In getting an experienced, highly regarded and media-savvy lawyer from outside the diocese, Murphy is making a dramatic statement about trying to move beyond the malaise brought on by the abuse scandal, his aides said.
"I am approaching this with a clean slate," said Tuohey, dismissing the much criticized past practices of the diocese "as not terribly relevant." A 2003 Suffolk County grand jury report found particular fault with the diocese's "intervention team," which discouraged victims from going to the police or filing lawsuits, instead making settlements the victims were forbidden to disclose.
Tuohey said if financial payments were the best way to meet the needs of the victims he would suggest the dollar amounts to Murphy, who would make the final decision. "I would think that any recommendation made to the bishop would be taken very seriously," he said. Maiello, 30, was sentenced to one to three years in prison in November after he admitted he had sex with four church members between April 2000 and April 2001. The victims were 15 and 16 at the time. Police found a videotape showing Maiello having three-way sex in his church office with some of these members of the youth group. At the time of his arrest in April 2003, Maiello had resigned from the parish and was teaching English at Kellenberg Memorial High School, in Uniondale.
Parishioners yesterday were given contact information for Tuohey and two investigators working for him. "We are waiting to hear from the parish, but we are going to be initiating some calls," said Tuohey.
Michael Dowd, a Manhattan lawyer who represents three of Maiello's victims, said yesterday that he had asked the diocese last year to handle the cases outside of the adversary process of the courtroom. Dowd said the diocese faces "monster verdicts, well in the seven figures" for its negligence in hiring and supervision of Maiello.
But Dowd was uncertain whether the hiring of a special mediator would resolve the litigation. "Frankly, whether this is another way to attempt to dodge responsibility remains to be seen," Dowd said.
Murphy, who has watched donations decline and Mass attendance fall throughout the diocese, has been long criticized for allowing diocesan lawyers to use hardball legal tactics in defending abuse cases. In pending cases, including those involving Maiello, diocesan lawyers have routinely denied the incidents took place, or said the victims and parents were culpable as well.
Other dioceses have created settlement funds. The Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., agreed last year to pay $25.7 million to 243 people who were part of a class-action lawsuit charging the church with fraud. In September, the Archdiocese of Boston began paying $85 million to 552 people who had sued. In Cincinnati, the archdiocese set up a $3-million fund as settlement of a criminal prosecution against the church. In all those settlements, victims whose cases may have been too old under state law were allowed to participate in the settlements.
Some of the parishioners leaving Mass yesterday morning said they were surprised by the overture from the diocese, saying the actions of the youth minister were not really a continuing issue in the parish. However, most welcomed the new approach. "I think whatever Murphy has to do to clear his name is fine with me. I support the parish and also him," said Jim Seder of East Meadow.
"It's a good idea, but to me the case is closed. I feel safe in my parish," said Amparo Amaya, as she left Mass with her husband Enrique and two sons, Anthony, 9, and Jonathan, 12.
However, strong emotions about what happened may be just under the surface. One woman who said she was deeply troubled by what happened with Maiello began to weep and said she couldn't talk about it.
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