Diocese Forms Sex-Abuse Group

By Nick Buglione
Herald [Long Island NY]
September 9, 2004

The Diocese of Rockville Centre is forming a support group for victims who have been sexually abused by clergy and other church personnel in parishes throughout Long Island, including St. Raphael-s in East Meadow.

The group, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting Sept. 20, was formed in response to victims- requests, according to Eileen Puglisi, director of the diocese-s Office for the Protection of Children and Young People. 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, Puglisi said.

The diocese, which comprises 134 parishes in Nassau and Suffolk counties, has come under fire in recent years, as victims have come forward alleging sexual abuse at the hands of clergy. Some have even accused William Murphy, bishop of the diocese, of trying to cover up the incidents by transferring pedophile priests out of the parishes where they have been accused of sexual abuse.

St. Raphael-s Roman Catholic Church in East Meadow was rocked by two sexual-abuse cases in recent years. Former priest Michael Hands was convicted in 2003 and served jail time for sodomizing a teenage boy. Hands had sex with the boy, who was not a St. Raphael-s parishioner, on two occasions between December 2000 and January 2001.

Matthew Maiello, who served as the church-s youth ministry director from 1999 to 2001 before taking a teaching job at nearby Kellenberg High School, pleaded guilty in July 2003 to raping and sodomizing four parish teens.

News of both scandals sent shock waves through the community. In a move aimed at avoiding future incidents, the parish invited Parents for Megan-s Law, a Suffolk County-based organization that runs sex-abuse-prevention programs, to talk with parishioners about safeguarding their children from pedophiles.

Two programs were presented, one geared toward adults, the other toward children, according to Parents for Megan-s Law Executive Director Laura Ahearn.

St. Raphael-s parishioners contacted by the Herald said they welcomed the idea of a diocesan support group for victims. Anything that can help people that have been hurt is a good idea, said parishioner Bill Maron. Whatever the diocese can do to help we would definitely be in favor of.

Parishioner Anthony Basirico concurred, saying that the support group is a good suggestion.

Still, there are some who view the diocese-s recent action as too little too late. It-s certainly long overdue, said Patricia Zirkel, co-chairwoman of the board of directors for the Long Island Voice of the Faithful, an organization formed to support those who have been victimized by clergy and to advocate change in the church.

Anything that sincerely tries to help victims is a step in the right direction, Zirkel said, adding though that she is skeptical of how the support group would be received. Whether victims would want to come forward and participate in a support group run by the diocese is still a question in my mind.

The diocese has been tight-lipped about who will be moderating the group, where meetings will be held and how many people have signed up so far.


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