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  Grand Jury Hears Testimony Alleging Sex Abuse by Priest

By Elissa Gootman
New York Times [Hauppauge, N.Y.]
May 16, 2002

At least six men who say they were abused by the same priest testified about their experiences this week before a special grand jury formed to examine how the Diocese of Rockville Centre has handled abuse allegations.

About a month ago, Thomas J. Spota, the Suffolk County district attorney, said he would empanel such a grand jury, saying he was "not at all satisfied with the credibility of public assertions of the church that it is properly policing its clergy."

The grand jury proceedings are scheduled to go on until Nov. 30 but could continue beyond that, said Robert Clifford, Mr. Spota's spokesman. He declined to comment further, citing secrecy laws.

While regular grand juries typically sit for days or weeks, hear evidence on a variety of cases and are charged with deciding whether prosecutors have enough evidence to move a case forward, special grand juries have a different function. They include more people, are limited to one topic and can issue reports and recommendations as well as indictments.

"The special grand jury is an investigative grand jury, which is a powerful tool for the prosecutors to do more investigation before charges are brought against anybody," said James B. Jacobs, a professor at New York University School of Law. "It's a way of getting information that you might otherwise not be able to get."

Melanie L. Little, a lawyer in Garden City, said six of her clients, all men, testified before the special grand jury this week, some on Monday and some today. Each testified for about a half-hour, she said, telling stories of abuse by the same man: Eugene Vollmer. Father Vollmer was removed in March from his position as an associate pastor at St. James Roman Catholic Church in Seaford, just as Newsday was preparing an article about two brothers who said he had abused them, the newspaper reported.

Three of the witnesses who testified said that Father Vollmer had molested them about 25 years ago, when he led a prayer group while working as a deacon at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Ronkonkoma. Ms. Little said that while the statute of limitations had lapsed in the cases of the six men who testified this week, she hoped the grand jury proceedings would encourage people with more recent abuse allegations to come forward.

"It seems like they're looking at every angle," said Ms. Little, who accompanied her clients to the hearings but was, by law, not allowed to witness their testimony. "The grand jury has the capacity to do a lot of things."

A spokesman for the Rockville Centre Diocese declined to comment on the allegations against Father Vollmer or say whether members of the diocese had been approached about testifying before the special grand jury.

 
 

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