Diocese to Start Support Group for Abuse Victims

By Rita Ciolli
Newsday [Long Island NY]
September 7, 2004

The Diocese of Rockville Centre will start a support group for victims of clerical sexual abuse later this month, more than two years after the Catholic Church on Long Island was shaken by the stories of predatory priests and just two months after a survivors' organization began a local outreach program.

"We're responding to a need voiced by some survivors of abuse who said they would find a support group helpful in bringing about healing," Eileen Puglisi, director of the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People, said in a written statement last week. The diocesan-sponsored sessions begin Sept. 20. Puglisi said those interested in attending should contact her.

The announcement of the support group comes as diocese officials are reviewing the treatment files of victims and are starting to cut off some financial payments for psychological counseling.

Some advocates have been critical of Bishop William Murphy's motivation to start the group and of the diocese's decision to discontinue therapy payments.

David Cerulli, head of the New York chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, said, "It can't be coincidental that we just started running support groups on Long Island and suddenly two and half years after the abuse was revealed the diocese is now offering support groups. Whenever things like this happen, it just makes me and many others feel that Bishop Murphy just does things from a public relations standpoint."

SNAP announced its self-help counseling support group for abuse victims, many of whom are adults dealing with childhood assaults, in July at a news conference outside diocesan headquarters in Rockville Centre. On Friday, Cerulli renewed his call for Murphy to place announcements of SNAP meetings in diocesan media, saying that many abuse victims do not want to participate in a church-run program.

Puglisi said in an October 2003 Newsday interview that victims had expressed no interest in such a support group. Asked when and how many victims have since asked the diocese for help, Sean Dolan, a diocesan spokesman, responded "... Survivors of sexual abuse have said to us that they would be interested in the creation of such a group."

Meanwhile, during the summer, several abuse victims have received letters from Msgr. Robert Batule, a former top aide to the bishop who dealt with issues stemming from the abuse crisis, notifying them that the diocese would no longer pay for private treatment.

Batule, who has since returned to parish work, wrote to Mark Fontana, whose abuse allegedly started at age 15 in an East Islip parish, that the diocese has been "most generous and fair" in paying for treatment since July 2002. "After conferring with psychiatrists here I have reached the determination that two years of cost-free counseling has met our goal of assisting victims of sexual abuse," Batule wrote to Fontana, who now lives in Fort Meyer, Fla.

The diocese also told Louis Weber, a former Coram resident whose abuse began when he was a 7-year-old altar boy, that it was ending his treatment payments after 14 months. Weber said he had been seeing a psychotherapist once a week at a cost of $150 a session.

"They said they were going to support me to the end, until I got to the finish line and now it is causing me a lot of anguish that I am not going to be able to finish," said Weber, a human resources coordinator now living in Pennsylvania.


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