Egan Resources – April 20–24, 2002
Letter to Parishes
By Cardinal Edward Egan
My Dear Friends in the Lord,
As you know, the Holy Father has directed the Cardinals of the United States to travel to Rome for a consultation regarding the tragedy of the abuse of minors by clergy. As I embark upon this important journey, I ask for your prayers for the success of this meeting.
The abuse of children and young people is a terrible crime. It must always be for us a top priority to care for them and to protect them. I will do everything in my power to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that such abuse by clergy will never happen again. You should expect nothing less of me, and the other leaders of our Church.
Over the past fifteen years, in both Bridgeport and New York, I consistently sought and acted upon the best independent advice available to me from medical experts and behavioral scientists. It is clear that today we have a much better understanding of this problem. If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry. Our present Archdiocesan policy reflects the new and better understanding that we have now. Its principal objective is to prevent abuse and to act immediately when an allegation of abuse arises. Towards this end we are cooperating with the public authorities to guarantee that our children are safe and secure.
I ask all of you to join me in praying for those children who were the victims of abuse and for their families, and for all those who may have suffered, even indirectly, from the terrible actions of a small number of priests.
As we focus our efforts towards effectively addressing this problem, I also ask you to remember the goodness and dedication of the overwhelming majority of our priests. I am sure that you will agree that during these difficult times they have not faltered in their commitment to serve you. They need our prayers, support, and encouragement.
May our Faith sustain all of us throughout this crisis.
Faithfully in Christ,
Cardinal Is `Deeply Sorry'
By Elizabeth Hamilton
After insisting for weeks that he properly handled sex abuse charges against priests while he was bishop of the Bridgeport Diocese, Cardinal Edward Egan, now the archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, apologized Saturday for any mistakes that "may have been made" in those cases.
The apology, included in a letter that is being read to parishioners from every pulpit in the New York archdiocese this weekend, stops short of acknowledging any direct culpability.
In a separate statement to the Hartford Courant Saturday, however, Egan admitted that he shouldn't have reassigned one priest - the Rev. Charles Carr - to parish work following repeated allegetions of sexual misconduct. The statements are unprecedented for the cardinal, who has staunchly defended his actions in Bridgeport.
"Over the past fifteen years, in both Bridgeport and New York, I consistently sought and acted upon the best independent advice available to me from medical experts and behavioral scientists. It is clear that today we have a much better understanding of this problem," Egan wrote in his letter to parishioners.
"If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry."
The apology comes more than a month after the Courant reported that Egan allowed several priests accused of sexual misconduct with children to continue working for years under his tenure and failed to report any allegations to the authorities.
The Courant based its stories on sealed court documents from lawsuits the diocese settled last year for roughly $12 million. These documents include pretrial testimony from Egan and other diocesan officials and personnel files of the accused priests.
Although Egan continues to defend his past actions by saying he reassigned abusive priests only on the advice of pyschiatric professionals, doctors at the nationally renowned psychiatric hospital Egan used almost exclusively during his tenure have publicly objected to this characterization.
Officials at The Institute of Living in Hartford, which operates one of the few programs in the United States specifically aimed at treating Roman Catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct, said last month they now believe they were used by church officials.
Doctors at the psychiatric hospital said the church has concealed information about past complaints against clergy sent to them for treatment and disregarded warnings that the hospital's evaluations were not intended to determine whether a priest should return to parish work.
Although Egan has not publicly addressed those accusations, he has opted for a different strategy in New York since news of the Bridgeport cases broke in March.
Earlier this month, the New York archdiocese gave the Manhattan district attorney's office information about sex abuse allegations against priests that span the last 35 years and suspended six priests accused of molesting minors.
Egan's letter to parishioners comes on the eve of a meeting of U.S. cardinals
with Pope John Paul II in Rome to discuss the sex abuse scandal in this
By Elizabeth Hamilton
In many ways, Carole Surran was the ideal parishioner - a devout Catholic who attended Mass daily and allowed nothing to interfere with her faith or devotion to the church.
It was that devotion, in part, that led the Wilton mother to seek a meeting in August 1989 with Bridgeport's new bishop, Edward Egan, to discuss a problem she feared would harm her church: The recent assignment to a diocesan high school of a priest who had tried to molest her son seven years earlier.
As an entree to Egan, Surran sought and received the help of a well-known professor and priest at St. John's University, where she was a graduate student in theology. The professor wrote to his friend Egan, commending Surran as an impressive woman who had a "grave and sensitive" matter to discuss with him.
Surran then followed up with a respectful - and, as it turns out, prophetic - letter of her own to the bishop, saying the matter "could have devastating effects on individuals, as well as be a serious scandal for the diocese and the Church. Hoping to hear from you soon."
Egan never responded.
Today, as Surran watches the recent crisis in the Catholic Church, she is furious that Egan defends his handling of numerous Bridgeport sex-abuse cases by saying he aggressively investigated, and cared about, victims' claims. Particularly galling, she said, is Egan's recent contention that he could not meet with victims or their families because they had all sued the diocese.
"One of his points was he didn't approach people because they were surrounded by lawyers - but we didn't sue," Surran said. "We weren't threatening. There was no excuse."
Surran said that even after making repeated phone calls to Egan's office, the most she was offered was a meeting with one of his aides. And despite her concerns, the accused priest, the Rev. Charles Carr, was allowed to continue working in the diocese until earlier this year, when he was finally removed after yet another complaint emerged.
Egan, now a cardinal and the archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, conceded Saturday through his spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, that his previous statement was wrong.
"Mrs. Surran is correct in reporting that she approached the Diocese of Bridgeport regarding Rev. Charles Carr without a lawyer," Zwilling said. "The statement of the Archdiocese of New York in March of this year was therefore in error as regards this case, despite an attentive review of all files in Bridgeport."
Egan also personally acknowledged Saturday that he had mishandled the Carr case. The admission came at the same time the archdiocese released a letter of apology from Egan that will be read from the pulpit today. (See related story, A1.)
"Looking back, if I had it to do again, I would not reassign a priest like Father Carr, even with restrictions and even with the best of professional advice," Egan said in a statement to The Courant.
Surran agreed to speak publicly for the first time this month, after being contacted by a reporter. Although her son cooperated with other victims' lawsuits against the Bridgeport diocese, and his account of abuse by Carr remains largely unchallenged, the Surrans never sued or sought exposure for themselves.
Their names surfaced in sealed court documents obtained by The Courant that show how Egan allowed Carr and other accused priests to continue working in parishes for years, and did not refer complaints to criminal authorities. The documents were sealed after the Bridgeport diocese settled complaints against Carr and five other priests last year for about $12 million.
Today, Surran, 65, and her husband, Boyd, are Eucharistic ministers in their parish in Arkansas, where they now live, and remain deeply devoted to the Catholic Church. Surran said she wishes she had called the police in 1982, when the incident with her son and Carr occurred, rather than assuming the diocese would handle it.
But, she said, she trusted the church.
"It was always the same motivation," she said. "I never got to the point where I wanted to `get' them. I wanted the problem taken care of. I still do."
What little confidence Surran might have still had in Egan was dashed last month, she said, when he refused to concede that he made mistakes in Bridgeport and claimed lawyers thwarted his desire to meet with victims of sex abuse by priests.
"It's important that [people] don't take Egan's word that he handled these cases appropriately," Surran said. "I think he should step down."
The Bridgeport diocese was a haven of sorts for 29-year-old Charles Carr.
After spending more than 10 years with the Order of Carmelites and taking his perpetual vows in 1974, Carr was not allowed to study for the ministerial priesthood with the Carmelites.
Carr was too emotionally immature to become a priest, his supervising priest said when contacted by the Bridgeport diocese for a reference. He wasn't a hard worker, became frustrated easily, didn't want to participate in communal prayer or community affairs, lacked a "physical presence," and had an "inability to express his needs and desires even to peers."
"At the moment, I could not see it as beneficial to Charles to enter the seminary and pursue theological studies for the ministerial priesthood," the Rev. Charles Haggerty wrote to the Bridgeport diocese in 1977.
Despite the blunt assessment of Carr's shortcomings from someone who had known him for years, the Bridgeport diocese accepted him as a candidate for priesthood after a psychological evaluation at St. Mary's Hospital in Waterbury.
He began in 1980 as a deacon intern at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Wilton, where he met the Surrans and, two years later, invited their 11-year-old son and another boy on a day trip to his sister's home on Long Island. Carole Surran said she gave her permission for the trip because it was a vacation week and her son was cooped up at home.
Her son - who is not being identified by The Courant at the family's request - says he didn't really want to go with Carr, but he didn't tell his mother that. After all, Carr was a priest and deserved respect, he said in a recent interview.
"The only reason I went was because I didn't want to hurt his feelings," he said.
As an outgoing and athletic 11-year-old boy, the son found Carr's "effeminate" mannerisms off-putting, he said, and it made him uncomfortable that Carr was often tickling boys in the parish. The day of the outing was no different.
Another boy was sitting in the front seat on the way there, and Carr was tickling him with one hand while he drove the tan Chevy Chevette with the other. After Carr dropped the other boy off at his house later that night, the priest suggested that Surran's son move to the front seat, and he then parked the car, the son said.
In a deposition he volunteered to give in 1996 when he learned that Carr was being sued for molesting other children, Surran's son described what happened next:
"After we dropped off Stephen, he started tickling me and then he tried to stick his hand down my pants further, trying to touch my penis," he testified.
"I turned to my right to cut his arm off, to shield myself from him. As his hand was there, I took my right hand and I put it over my penis so he couldn't touch it and I rolled, turned away and kept nudging at his arm so eventually it would come out, and he kept persisting and persisting. Eventually, he pushed - his hand came out and I kicked him and I hit him and I called him a pervert at that point in time, and he was shocked, obviously."
Surran later told diocesan officials that Carr started pounding on her son's back and "laughing this maniacal laugh" as the child insisted the priest take him home. In a written statement she submitted to the diocese in 1989, Surran said her son was drenched in sweat and shaking when he came home that night and told his mother what had happened.
"He was almost in shock," Surran recalled. "He couldn't have been lying, in that condition."
The next morning, one of her son's neighborhood friends called to talk to him. Thinking it might cheer him up and rouse him from his fetal position in bed, Surran called her son to the phone.
But when he took the phone, he discovered it wasn't his friend on the line - it was Carr, who was visiting the other boy's family.
"He kept saying, `I'm going to get you. I'm going to get you,' and he was laughing that laugh again," Carole Surran said in her 1989 statement to the diocese. "It was very frightening to [her son]."
Rather than go to the police, Surran immediately reported all of this to her parish priest, the Rev. Michael Palmer, who told her it would be taken care of, she said. Palmer confronted Carr, who admitted the tickling, but insisted his hand must have slipped down the boy's pants by mistake, diocese documents show. Palmer simply told Carr to stay away from the Surran boy, and he let the matter drop.
Carr was transferred about a year later to Saint Mary's in Bethel, where he was also assigned to the staff of Immaculate High School in Danbury. Surran, who remained unaware of Carr's new assignment, said she assumed church officials were keeping Carr away from children.
She was wrong.
Within weeks of being transferred to Bethel in 1984, Carr invited a 14-year-old altar boy at Saint Mary's Parish to see the movie "Cloak and Dagger" at the Fine Arts Theater in Brookfield.
According to diocesan memos contained in Carr's personnel file, he began fondling the boy in the car on the way to the theater, continued throughout the film, and resumed again on the drive home.
Another boy from Saint Mary's also complained that Carr fondled him at the movies during the same time period, and the boys' parents went together to the church to make a complaint.
Monsignor Andrew T. Cusack, the vicar for clergy and religious, met with the parents, records show, and then transferred Carr to St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in East Norwalk. Cusack required Carr to seek therapy, but he didn't warn Carr's new parish priest that he was getting an accused child molester.
Although Carr later denied molesting any of the boys at St. Thomas, he admitted under oath to inviting several young teenagers to his room at the rectory to watch movies behind closed doors. Carr was later sued by one of those boys, who accused the priest of masturbating him during these movie sessions, as well as by his own nephew, who also claimed he was molested during the same time period.
Carr, who now lives on the grounds of the Sisters of the Holy Family Nazareth compound in Monroe, did not respond to a request for comment last week.
After two years at St. Thomas, Carr was transferred to Fairfield, where he held a teaching position at Notre Dame High School, and then, in 1989, to Central Catholic High School in Norwalk, where he was named spiritual director for boys.
When Carole Surran, who had lost track of Carr after 1984, learned of his high school appointment, she immediately tried to see Egan, who had just been named bishop in December 1988. That's when she had one of her professors at St. John's, Monsignor George A. Kelly, write her a letter of introduction.
Kelly, now retired, said he doesn't remember much about the Surran case and declined to comment on Egan's refusal to meet with his former student. In the letter he wrote for Surran in June 1989, Kelly told Egan, a longtime friend, that he was "impressed with her sensitivity, intellectual grasp of the issues and her good sense."
In her own letter about a month later, Surran told Egan: "I have delayed writing this letter because of the many burdens that you have had to carry during those first months as bishop of this diocese. I certainly have no wish to add to this burden."
With no response, and after numerous calls to Egan's office in a futile attempt to get an appointment, Surran settled for a meeting with the bishop's aide, Monsignor Laurence Bronkiewicz. She recalls telling Bronkiewicz the diocese was making a terrible mistake by assigning Carr to a school, and he "led me to believe he would take care of it."
But the diocese's way of taking care of the problem once again fell far short of Surran's expectations.
Although Bronkiewicz spoke with Palmer, the priest who received Surran's complaint in 1983, and even unearthed a second sexual misconduct complaint from that time period, Carr was allowed to continue working at Central Catholic after a one-day psychiatric evaluation at the Institute of Living in Hartford.
Egan, who made the decision to return Carr to Central Catholic, pulled him out of the job a second time when the diocese received another complaint against Carr in 1990, and returned him to the institute for three months of treatment.
Then, in June 1990, Egan reassigned Carr to St. Philip Parish in Norwalk. Although the diocese told Carr he could not minister directly to children, there was an elementary school attached to the church.
Surran, who by now was tracking Carr's whereabouts, went ballistic.
"I called the vicar, Monsignor Bronkiewicz, and I expressed my outrage," Surran said. "And he said, and I remember this perfectly, `I didn't know you meant any school. I thought you just meant that school,' meaning Central Catholic. It was a very telling remark. He was just placating me."
Bronkiewicz, who issued a statement Saturday, did not address Surran's version of their final conversation. But he denied that he gave Surran any assurances in 1989 about how the allegation would be handled.
"I did not - and would not - make a promise to Mrs. Surran regarding Father Carr's future assignment, because I had no authority to do so," Bronkiewicz said. "My responsibility was to report Mrs. Surran's complaint to the Bishop, which I did."
Egan allowed Carr to continue working as a priest until 1995, when he suspended him after the first lawsuit was filed in connection with Carr's alleged molestation of children. Egan eventually allowed him to return in 1999 as a chaplain for the Pope John Paul II Center for Health Care in Danbury.
He remained there until February, when the new bishop, William Lori, suspended him after receiving another complaint of sexual misconduct from years earlier.
As for the Surrans, they wrote a letter in May 2000 to Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo of the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., expressing their profound concern about Egan being named archbishop of New York.
"Twenty-two cases of pedophilia have been filed against the diocese, and Bishop Egan is under subpoena," the letter said. "Some of the priests accused in these cases have been moved from parish (with school) to parish (with school) during the tenure of Bishop Egan."
They never got a response.
Scandal in the Church: The New York Cardinal
By Dean E. Murphy
Cardinal Edward M. Egan acknowledged publicly for the first time yesterday that he might have mishandled allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
In a letter read at Masses in parishes throughout the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Egan apologized if mistakes had been made in dealing with abusive priests and their victims in both New York and Bridgeport, Conn., where he was the bishop until two years ago. He also asked for prayers for the success of a meeting of American cardinals and Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, for which he leaves today.
Though the apology was offered conditionally, the letter's overall tone was more contrite than the cardinal's previous statements about his role in the scandal. The archdiocese issued instructions that the letter be read at Masses today as well, and it posted the letter on its Web site (www.ny-archdiocese.org).
"If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry," the letter said.
The spokesman for the cardinal, Joseph Zwilling, said the timing was intended to coincide with the meeting in Rome but the letter itself was not demanded by the Vatican. The contents of the letter were reported yesterday in The New York Post.
"He was absolutely not told to do it," Mr. Zwilling said. "He wanted to ask people for prayers and to acknowledge the situation before he departs."
In the letter, Cardinal Egan describes the meeting in Rome as an "important journey" and denounces the sexual abuse of children as a terrible crime. "I will do everything in my power to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that such abuse by clergy will never happen again," he wrote. "You should expect nothing less of me, and the other leaders of our church."
Several victims of abuse and their lawyers said they were generally suspicious of Cardinal Egan's motives in making the remarks now. They suggested that he was putting his house in order at the last minute in anticipation of some tough questioning in Rome.
"This statement does sound more compassionate and spiritual than the others, but it is still done as a form of damage control," said Cindy L. Robinson, a lawyer who represented 26 people in a recently settled sexual abuse lawsuit against the Diocese of Bridgeport. "I also think it would be much more forceful if he would speak it rather than constantly issuing statements," she said.
Mr. Zwilling said Cardinal Egan would celebrate Mass this morning at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the Bronx before leaving for Rome, but it was unlikely that he would read the letter aloud himself.
At Mass yesterday afternoon at the Church of St. Malachy in Midtown Manhattan, a priest read excerpts to several dozen parishioners and made copies of the complete letter available. Several parishioners said after the service that they would reserve judgment until the American cardinals completed their meeting with the pope. Some said they found it hard to know what was new in the letter because they had been saturated with information about the sexual abuse scandal.
Lorane Walsh, a waitress from Queens who was visiting the parish before work, praised the cardinal for keeping the lines of communication open. "He has kept us informed all along during this troubling time," she said. "This letter is just another example of that."
One of the parishioners, Colin Adair, interpreted the letter as a call for spiritual support. "He asks for our prayers, and that is the least we can do," Mr. Adair said.
Paul Mones, a lawyer in Portland, Ore., who represents several victims of sexual abuse in New York, said the cardinal's remarks were significant because they came from a leader "who has been at the forefront of resisting any change." But Mr. Mones said the cardinal's reference to possible mistakes was misleading.
"It is getting off easy to say the behavior of the church was a mistake," Mr. Mones said. "It was not a negligent, unthinking action; it was a conscious plan to prevent scandal and to protect the interests of the church."
In the letter, the cardinal revisited the sensitive subject of his reliance on advice from psychiatrists on how to deal with abusive priests. In a previous letter to New York parishioners, issued last month, he defended his handling of sexual abuse cases during his 12 years in Bridgeport by pointing to his policy of sending the priests to "prominent psychiatric institutions" for evaluation. But in an article last month in The Hartford Courant, Dr. Harold I. Schwartz, chief of psychiatry at the Institute of Living, where many abusive priests were sent, said church officials sometimes withheld important information about the priests.
In his letter yesterday, Cardinal Egan repeated that he had relied on
the experts, but suggested that knowledge of the problem of sexual abuse
of minors was more complete now. "Over the past 15 years, in both
Bridgeport and New York, I consistently sought and acted upon the best
independent advice available to me from medical experts and behavioral
scientists," he wrote. "It is clear today that we have a much
better understanding of this problem."
By Bruce Golding
Yonkers — The sexual misconduct allegations that led to the removal of the Rev. John Lennon are unsubstantiated, and he has denied any wrongdoing, his replacement told parishioners at St. John the Baptist Church yesterday.
Monsignor Edward O'Donnell also apologized to church members who learned from news reports last week that Lennon was among six priests who recently left their posts because of past allegations of sexual misconduct.
"It was my hope that this whole thing would be resolved very quickly, very expeditiously, and all this notoriety would have been unnecessary," said O'Donnell, vicar of priests for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
"I guess it has taken more time to get to this than I had hoped and I had anticipated, so I'm sorry for any disappointment or confusion that may have been caused by the delay in which information came to you."
This month, the New York Archdiocese turned over to law enforcement authorities several decades' worth of misconduct allegations against its priests.
The move came amid a widening scandal over the Roman Catholic Church's handling of sex abuse complaints. Pope John Paul II has scheduled a meeting with American cardinals in Rome this week to address the situation.
Yesterday, O'Donnell said the information turned over to authorities included unsubstantiated allegations against priests, and he twice said the allegations against Lennon, 74, were unsubstantiated. Lennon "protests his innocence," O'Donnell said.
O'Donnell did not detail the allegations beyond saying they related to conduct that allegedly occurred "in the past, years before he came to St. John's." Previously, O'Donnell told reporters that the allegations dated to Lennon's tenure as a teacher and administrator at Cardinal Hayes Roman Catholic High School in the Bronx during the 1970s and early '80s.
O'Donnell asked parishioners to withhold judgment and pray for Lennon "during this difficult time." He said that a prayer meeting and discussion about the matter were tentatively scheduled for April 29 at the church.
O'Donnell's remarks came toward the end of yesterday's 5 p.m. Mass, after he introduced himself to about 300 people in attendance. Before introducing himself, O'Donnell read aloud a letter in which New York Cardinal Edward Egan apologized "if in hindsight" he mishandled cases of sexual misconduct by priests.
Several parishioners interviewed afterward unanimously expressed support for Lennon and disbelief of the allegations against him.
Some, however, also criticized the archdiocese's handling of the matter.
"I understand (O'Donnell's) explanation, but I still believe we should have been told before, not just by him, but by the cardinal," said parishioner Brian Hunt, 47.
Parishioner Mary O'Sullivan likewise said she thought that church members should have been immediately informed about Lennon's removal, and that "having to wait another eight days for a meeting is a long delay."
By Maki Becker and Tracy Connor
Edward Cardinal Egan apologized yesterday to parishioners about "mistakes" that might have been made in the handling of sexual abuse allegations against priests.
In a letter read at churches this weekend, Egan wrote, "I consistently sought and acted upon the best independent advice available to me from medical experts and behavioral scientists.
[Photo Caption - Edward Egan.]
"It is clear that today we have a much better understanding of this problem," he continued.
"If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry."
Although priests and parishioners in the Archdiocese of New York welcomed Egan's qualified apology, representatives of sexual abuse victims were angry he did not admit to botching the cases.
"It's frankly tragic that he uses the word 'if' at this point," said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"It's one more effort to minimize the damage and shift the blame, and it's disappointing."
Egan - who has come under fire for his treatment of abuse complaints during his tenure as bishop in Bridgeport, Conn. - asked that the letter be read at all Masses within the archdiocese yesterday and today.
Reaction mostly positive
The Rev. Donald Dwyer read it at the 5 p.m. Mass at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in the Bronx and said reaction was positive.
"I think people have been confused and frightened and angry and bewildered and anxious, and so I thought they were happy the cardinal's letter addressed the problem head-on," he said.
At St. Michael's Church on W. 34th St. in Manhattan, congregants said Egan's letter struck the right tone.
"It was a very direct apology. I don't think he skirted around it at all," said one middle-aged woman, a longtime parishioner who did not want her name used.
This month, the archdiocese gave the Manhattan district attorney's office the names of priests accused of sexual abuse during the past 35 years.
Egan is heading to the Vatican today to attend a meeting of American cardinals called by Pope John Paul to address the pedophile priests scandal.
By Terry Corcoran and Noreen O’Donnell
Patterson — Father Ralph LaBelle was removed yesterday as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Putnam Lake after an allegation involving a teen-age boy.
When an announcement was made yesterday at the start of the 5:30 p.m. Mass, a collective gasp could be heard inside the church, which was about three-fourths filled. LaBelle, 54, came to the church in 1997 and was installed as its fifth pastor in September 1999.
A mother from the church told The Journal News yesterday that she sent the archdiocese four letters between 1998 and last month detailing what she believed was LaBelle's inappropriate friendship with her son, beginning when he was 15. The son is now an adult. There were no allegations involving sex.
She said LaBelle bought her son cigarettes, three beepers, a cell phone, snowboarding equipment and a pass to nearby Thunder Ridge ski area, and frequently treated him to fast-food meals.
"It's just not normal," said the woman, whose name is being withheld by The Journal News.
She also said that LaBelle sent her a letter last year, in which he said the archdiocese had asked him to have no more contact with her son.
LaBelle was one of two priests in Putnam County whose names were referred to the District Attorney's Office because of past allegations.
Putnam County District Attorney Kevin L. Wright confirmed yesterday that his office has an open investigation into an allegation against LaBelle that is non-sexual. Wright said that, initially, the archdiocese provided information on April 3 indicating that LaBelle was the subject of a previous non-sexual complaint in 1991 involving a boy who was 15 at the time. However, Wright said it was determined that the allegation occurred outside of Putnam County and that, even if it were true, the statute of limitations for any crime had expired.
The second allegation against LaBelle, the one currently being investigated, was made in 2001, but goes back to 1998 and also involved a boy who was 15, Wright said.
"That allegation is also of a non-sexual nature, at least to the extent of information the archdiocese has given us on the matter. This week, we conducted interviews in connection with that investigation. Our inquiry is continuing as quickly as we can," Wright said.
Reached last night, Edward Donelan, a lay member of the parish council at Sacred Heart, read a statement from the council but declined to elaborate or answer questions.
"We are a faith-based community supporting Father Ralph LaBelle," the statement said. "We hope and pray that this matter be resolved quickly and he be returned to our community to carry on his positive leadership in the important mission of this parish. We respectfully request your prayers for quick justice."
Six priests have been removed from their assignments by the Archdiocese of New York because of past allegations, however it was unclear yesterday if LaBelle is one of them. Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, could not be reached for comment last night.
Among the six priests who have been removed are: the Rev. John Lennon, a longtime Yonkers pastor and a well-known person in that city; the Rev. Kenneth Jesselli of Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton; the Rev. Gennaro Gentile, a former pastor at Holy Name of Mary who had been working at church's marriage annulment office in Poughkeepsie; and the Rev. John Gallant of St. Joan of Arc in Sloatsburg.
At the start of the 5:30 p.m. vigil Mass yesterday, a monsignor who identified himself as director of priest personnel read an announcement that said because of past allegations, LaBelle had stepped aside as pastor until the matter was resolved because his name was forwarded to the District Attorney.
The monsignor said the allegations were not new and that LaBelle was being replaced by a priest who previously served at St. Gregory Barbarigo in Garnerville.
By Noreen O’Donnell
PATTERSON — A day after learning the Rev. Ralph LaBelle had been removed from Sacred Heart Church in Putnam Lake because of an allegation of past inappropriate behavior, the parishioners at a morning Mass yesterday applauded their pastor.
"Father Ralph is a good man," a visiting priest, the Rev. Paul Tolve, told them he had heard from many in the parish.
"Your pastor ..." he began, but was interrupted by clapping from the pews.
In contrast to Saturday night, when the announcement of LaBelle's removal was met with gasps from the congregation, the crowded church was quiet yesterday as Monsignor Desmond O'Connor, the newly appointed director of priest personnel for the Archdiocese of New York, repeated the news.
"This is a difficult time for the church, also a difficult time for your parish, a difficult time for all of the Catholic faithful," O'Connor said, referring to the growing scandal over the Roman Catholic Church's handling of sex abuse complaints. "On behalf of the archdiocese, may I say that we are sorry that this action was necessary. And I do ask for prayers for all of those involved, and especially for Father Ralph."
LaBelle's name was among those turned over to the Putnam County District Attorney's Office as part of several decades' worth of misconduct allegations the archdiocese gave to law enforcement officials in the past month.
District Attorney Kevin Wright has confirmed his office has an open investigation of LaBelle, and has said the complaint, which dates from 1998, is nonsexual in nature. An alleged 1991 incident involving LaBelle that occurred outside of Putnam County also was not sexual, he said, though he provided no details about what the incident did involve. Both concern boys who were 15 at the time, he said.
A mother from Sacred Heart Church has told The Journal News that she wrote to the archdiocese four times, beginning in 1998, upset about what she viewed as LaBelle's inappropriate friendship with her son. The priest bought her son cigarettes, beepers, a cell phone that she made him return, snowboarding equipment and a pass to nearby Thunder Ridge Ski Area, she said.
Last year, she said, LaBelle wrote to her, saying the archdiocese had asked him to have no more contact with her son.
Following the Mass at Sacred Heart Church yesterday — after which church officials stayed behind to answer questions from parishioners in private — others came to LaBelle's defense.
"As far as I am concerned, we stand behind our priests tenfold," said Jim Thompson, a member of the Father James T. Breen Council of the Knights of Columbus who, like some of the other men in the church, wore a button that read: "In Solidarity With Our Priests."
"I believe that in the eyes of the law we are innocent until proven guilty," said one of the parishioners, Helen Staadt. "And in the eyes of God, we have no right to judge."
Another parishioner, Kelly Gilsenan, said she was surprised. "What I know of Father Ralph is that he's a good man."
The parish council issued a statement saying it hoped the allegation would be resolved quickly and LaBelle returned to the parish.
Tolve, who fills in regularly at Sacred Heart Church, conceded during the Mass that some sex abuse allegations had not been handled appropriately by the church, which in the past frequently moved offending priests from parish to parish and failed to notify law enforcement officials. The fallout has made some other priests afraid to show any love at all, he said.
This is a time for the church to examine topics such as married priests and the role of the women in the church, he said, issues that have risen to the surface in recent months. Priests, bishops and the pope have been put on pedestals, he said, while reminding the parishioners, "I am as much a human being and a man as anyone else here."
While acknowledging the pain of the victims of sex abuse, he questioned why the media were devoting so much attention to a scandal that has involved only a small percentage of priests.
"Next year, the press will be after some other group ..." he said.
By Nicole Bode and Greg Gittrich with Gretchen E. Weber
Edward Cardinal Egan's stand-in at St. Patrick's Cathedral pointedly blamed the priest sex abuse scandal on homosexuality, a "sex-saturated" society and a constant assault on celibacy by liberals.
In a 15-minute homily from the most prominent Roman Catholic pulpit in the city, Msgr. Eugene Clark labeled the United States "probably the most immoral country" in the Western hemisphere. He also called homosexuality "a disorder" and said gay men shouldn't be allowed to become priests.
[Photo Captions - Msgr. Eugene Clark. Motorcycling participants in last year's Gay Pride Parade ride past St. Patrick's Cathedral. Yesterday, cathedral parishioners were told the practice of homosexuality is sinful. Photos by Michael Schwartz.]
Clark, 76, a longtime key player and conservative voice in the Archdiocese of New York, delivered his stinging homily as Egan and other U.S. cardinals left for Rome to meet with the Pope about priestly pedophilia.
After preaching about forgiveness, Clark detailed reasons he believes some priests victimized children. He appeared to place most of the blame on homosexuality, saying the theory that people are born gay "is not true."
"The tendency to homosexuality is a disorder, not a sin," he said. "But the practice of homosexuality is truly sinful."
Some parishioners in the packed pews shifted uneasily, others nodded in agreement and a few walked out. But Clark continued, arguing that it was a "grave mistake" to allow gays in the priesthood. He blamed American society for being "very protective" of homosexuality.
"Homosexuality became in the American exchange of views a protected area," he said. "And unfortunately . . . homosexual students were allowed to pass through seminaries. Grave mistake. Not because homosexuals in anyway tend to criminality, but because it is a disorder." 'The most immoral country' Clark also criticized what he called "the campaign of liberal America against celibacy."
He theorized that priests who have a tendency toward sexually abusing children - a group he pegged at 3% of the nation's clergy - were affected by a barrage of sinful images in society.
"Liberated sex is offered to people all day long, all evening long," he said. "There is nothing quite like it."
"We know - we won't mention it outside the cathedral - we are probably the most immoral country certainly in the Western hemisphere and maybe the larger circle because of the entertainment we suffer and what it's done to our [country's] morals . . .," Clark said.
Christine Schubert of St. Paul dashed out of the cathedral midway through the homily. "I left because I realized I have no desire to be connected with the institution of the Catholic Church," said Schubert, 27. "I thought, wouldn't it be great if the entire church walked out?"
But few did. Most parishioners stayed, and many applauded Clark after his sermon.
Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, the nation's largest organization of gay Catholics, called Clark's comments linking the sex scandal with homosexuality "incredibly horrifying and irresponsible."
"This is a poor attempt to deflect attention away from the church's culpability for the sexual abuse of minors by priests and its attempt to cover it up for decades," she added.
But Catholic League President William Donohue praised Clark. "He makes a great deal of sense and to have this said so articulately by one of the brighter priests in the New York area is very encouraging," Donohue said.
"The internal problem in the church is a lack of governance and due to diligence," he added. "But there is no question about it - this is a societywide problem that goes way beyond the Catholic Church."
Here are some excerpts from a homily by Msgr. Eugene Clark
at St. Patrick's Cathedral yesterday:
"Of course, homosexuals should have all the rights they ought to have, and you and I should be their protectants in their rights. But to say that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality - whose defining sexual practice is sodomy - is wrong. That's wrong. ... Practicing homosexuality is truly sinful."
"Unfortunately, ... homosexual students were allowed to pass through seminaries. Grave mistake. Not because homosexuals in any way tend to criminality, but because it is a disorder and, as a disorder, should prevent a person from being ordained a priest."
"We are probably the most immoral country certainly in the Western Hemisphere - and maybe the larger circle - because of the entertainment we suffer and what it's done to our [country's] morals ... So if the 3% [of clergy] were touched by that, we ask God to forgive them for it. We ask God to help remedy a situation which might be way beyond the control of the holy father and the apostles."
By Zach Haberman
Hours before he flew to Rome to meet with the pope, Edward Cardinal Egan said he was "anxious" to discuss the "tragic situation" of priest sexual abuse - and New York parishioners praised him for his courage.
"I don't think that Cardinal Egan should take the blame for everything that happened with the priests. It's too big a problem for one person to take the blame," said Myrtis Booker, 85, outside St. Anthony of Padua Church in the South Bronx, where Egan celebrated Sunday Mass.
[Photo Caption - Quick Service: Edward Cardinal Egan, hours before he flew to Rome for a meeting with the pope, is greeted by parishioners yesterday at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the South Bronx. N.Y. Photo by Luiz C. Ribeiro.]
Nereida Gutierrez, 25, also defended the cardinal, but admitted he needed to apologize for the actions of other members of the archdiocese.
"We all know he had nothing to do with it, but he's the role model. He's the leader, so he has to take the blame, but I don't think it's right," said Gutierrez.
She praised the cardinal for apologizing to parishioners yesterday for any harm he may have caused them - even though the apology was read before the Mass by a priest, while the cardinal was in a separate room.
There are others, like Dennissette Valentin, who are less worried about the situation now that the cardinal's accepting the blame.
"He understands his fault, and it's good that he wants to talk to the pope about it. It makes me feel better," said Valentin, 40.
Hundreds of people flocked to St. Anthony to attend the Mass, which the cardinal performed mostly in Spanish.
He broke away from Spanish to tell parishioners in his homily that "we are facing a very tragic situation. Our Holy Father wishes to speak to us about this, and we're anxious to hear what he has to say."
The cardinal and his fellow American cardinals have been convened to the Vatican for an emergency meeting to discuss the sex-abuse scandal involving children and priests that has rocked the church.
Egan has been under fire for allegedly being too lenient with priests accused of sexual abuse and failing to assist victims, both in New York and previously as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn.
By Ralph R. Ortega with Robin Haas
Hours before he flew to Rome for an unprecedented meeting on the church's sex abuse scandal, Edward Cardinal Egan asked worshipers who packed a South Bronx church yesterday to pray for him.
"Please keep us in your prayers," Egan asked about 700 Catholic congregants in Spanish and English during a homily at St. Anthony of Padua on E. 166th St.
[Photo Caption - A Calling: Edward Cardinal Egan is paged during Mass at St. Anthony of Padua in the Bronx yesterday.]
"We're facing a very tragic situation," Egan said. "Our holy father wishes to speak to us about this, and we're very anxious to hear what he has to say."
"Ask the Holy Spirit," he added, "to guide the church, to give us wisdom, to give us courage. To give us strength."
Later, Egan boarded a Delta flight to Rome for meetings at the behest of Pope John Paul, who invited America's cardinals to discuss the scandal that has roiled the church.
Egan made no mention of a letter he wrote that was read at churches throughout the Archdiocese of New York this weekend. In it, Egan apologizes for "mistakes" that may have been made in the handling of sexual abuse allegations against priests.
Egan, who usually preaches at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday, went to the Bronx on a routine parish visit, a spokesman said. The timing was fortuitous for the cardinal, who got a hero's sendoff from the mostly Hispanic congregation.
Adoring worshipers reached out as Egan led a procession through the church. His homily received a thunderous applause, and people kissed his hands as he strode out of the church. "May God go with him to Rome," said Isidro Morales, a 78-year-old electrician from Puerto Rico.
Egan's letter - read before the Mass began - drew mostly positive comments from congregants and clergy.
But some parishioners said they wished Egan would elaborate on the letter and the burgeoning scandal that has threatened the future of the church. Egan faces mounting questions about his handling of sex abuse complaints during his tenure as bishop in Bridgeport, Conn.
"It would have been comforting to hear him in person, instead of reading his words," said Zorina Sanchez, 43, a lifelong St. Anthony parishioner.
"I've known some victims, and I'm glad the church is continuing to address this," said the Rev. Kenneth France-Kelly, a visiting Dominican friar who read the letter at St. Catherine of Siena Church on E. 68th St. in Manhattan.
"And if we address it well," France-Kelly added, "we'll
restore any erosion of trust or confidence."
By Daniel Tepfer
Bridgeport - A day after the Bridgeport Diocese admitted that Monsignor Charles W. Stubbs was suspended in 1997 for molesting a boy in the 1980s, three other men told the Connecticut Post they - and two others - also were sexually assaulted by Stubbs.
The three said they had reported it to the diocese. Diocesan officials Monday admitted knowing of two of the complaints.
At a press conference Sunday, Bishop William E. Lori announced he had suspended three priests who admitted sexual abuse. Lori also revealed that Stubbs and the Rev. Joseph Moore had previously been suspended for sexual abuse. The men technically are still priests but no longer have the authority to minister.
Lori told the press conference that in September 1997, while Cardinal Edward Egan was bishop of Bridgeport, diocesan officials received a complaint that Stubbs, 63, molested a boy at St. Mary's Church in Ridgefield. The diocese said it was the only complaint raised against Stubbs.
After investigating, Egan suspended Stubbs, but parishioners were not told what happened to him. When the Post asked about Stubbs at the time, a diocesan spokesman said he was convalescing from a knee injury.
Stubbs' assignments in the diocese appear to fit a pattern of how the diocese handled priests accused of abusing children by moving them from parish to parish.
Ordained in 1963, Stubbs was first assigned to St. Edward's Church in New Fairfield. From 1963 to 1964, he was at St. Mary's Church in Stamford; from 1964 to 1967, he worked at Assumption Parish in Westport; from 1967 to 1969, he was assigned to St. Ann's Church in Bridgeport; from 1969 to 1976, St. Catherine of Siena in Greenwich; from 1976 to 1991, St. Mary's Church in Ridgefield; and from 1991 to 1996, St. Mary's Church in Greenwich.
Stubbs, who had been named a monsignor by 1996, was accused of "financial impropriety" while at St. Mary's in Greenwich. Sources said Stubbs stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the church. He was forced to retire as pastor of St. Mary's.
In July 1997, however, Stubbs was brought out of retirement by Egan and appointed assistant pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown.
The revelation by Lori that Stubbs had molested a boy in Ridgefield in the 1980s was very distressing to John Papp.
"The fact that there were other victims after me has been very upsetting," he said.
Papp, 51, who now lives in Massachusetts, said he was assaulted by Stubbs while attending a retreat at Stonehill College in Brockton, Mass., in August 1968.
Papp said he was 17 then and had recently graduated from Notre Dame High School in Fairfield, which at the time had an all-male student body. He said one night in a dormitory room Stubbs opened a portable bar he often carried and offered Papp alcohol.
After a few drinks, Papp said he became sleepy. He said Stubbs then sexually assaulted him. "I tried to resist him, but he kept at me," Papp recalled.
Papp said the next day, he reported the incident to two other priests on the Notre Dame faculty.
A 47-year-old city man, who did not want his name revealed, testified in a 1999 deposition before diocesan lawyer Joseph Sweeney that Stubbs had sexually assaulted him during the 1970-71 school year while he was 15 and a student at Notre Dame.
He said he and two friends attended a retreat with Stubbs at the former Christ the King Seminary in Trumbull. Instead of driving the teens home, he took them to his residence at the former Holy Ghost Fathers Residence in Norwalk.
There, the man recalled, Stubbs gave the three boys wine until they became sleepy and then led each to a bedroom. The man said Stubbs then went from bedroom to bedroom, sexually assaulting the teens.
"The next morning I told the boy in the room next to mine that he wouldn't believe the crazy dream I had last night and he said, 'He got you, too,' " the man said. "We found the third boy in his room naked and the priest's collar was on the bedpost."
He said the three of them got dressed and hitchhiked back to Bridgeport.
A 51-year-old Redding man, who asked that his name not be used, wrote a letter to Monsignor Laurence Bronkiewicz, diocese chancellor, on April 10.
In the letter, he recounts a sordid story of abuse at the hands of Stubbs when he was 15 or 16 and an altar boy at St. Ann's Church.
"For a couple of months he'd bring me along to movies, pizza and CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] functions, often with some girls from Notre Dame," he recalled. "One evening he took me alone to his parents home in the Brooklawn area. There, Father Stubbs gave me Scotch until I passed out."
When he awoke, he said, Stubbs was sexually assaulting him.
The man said after that, whenever he saw Stubbs walking along the street he would jump into the bushes to hide from him. Now married, he is raising his two children as Protestants.
Diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer said Bronkiewicz had received the Redding man's letter and was trying to arrange a meeting with him.
He said the Bridgeport man's statement during the February 1999 deposition was the first time the diocese had heard of his complaint. Since Stubbs had already been suspended for another abuse, he no longer posed a danger to anyone, he said.
McAleer said they had no record that Papp had complained of abuse and had no comment on it.
Daniel Tepfer, who covers state courts and law enforcement issues, can be reached at 330-6308.
Church hinders probe, Putnam D.A. says
By Gary Stern
Putnam County District Attorney Kevin Wright accused the Archdiocese of New York yesterday of hindering his investigation into a priest recently removed from a Putnam Lake parish and said he was being forced to begin grand jury proceedings to subpoena information.
Wright said his investigators were denied information about a complaint made against the Rev. Ralph LaBelle, who was the pastor of Sacred Heart Church until the weekend. LaBelle was suddenly removed by the archdiocese because of a past allegation of inappropriate, but nonsexual, behavior toward a 15-year-old boy.
"If I sound a little annoyed, it's because I am," Wright said.
Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese, was baffled by Wright's charge. He said that when church lawyers met with district attorneys on April 9 to discuss newly released files detailing past complaints against priests, the lawyers explained that certain personnel records might have to be subpoenaed. An understanding seemed to be reached at that time, Zwilling said.
"All of the outside legal advisers we have consulted with, including former prosecutors, have said that the issuing of subpoenas for personnel records is routine and that any district attorney would understand," Zwilling said. "It doesn't mean that we wouldn't give it to them."
Employers are often reluctant to release sensitive personnel records unless forced to by subpoenas, reducing their own risk of being sued by employees.
Meanwhile, close to 50 parishioners who back LaBelle gathered at Sacred Heart Church last night for an emotional prayer vigil. Most wore ribbons to show their support, and several teen-agers could be seen sobbing.
LaBelle is one of several priests in the region who have been removed from their assignments by the archdiocese in recent weeks because they face past allegations of misconduct.
The archdiocese has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors who choose to investigate certain allegations. Wright, however, said the archdiocese was going back on its promise, adding that the information he was denied — the complaint made against LaBelle — was central to his investigation and not simply a personnel record.
Wright also said information provided by the archdiocese incorrectly stated that LaBelle was accused of inappropriate behavior with the 15-year-old in 1991, a time lapse that would have made criminal charges impossible under state law. Not until his office called the archdiocese last week, Wright said, was it confirmed that the allegation against LaBelle dated to 1998.
"If the parishioners want Father LaBelle back, if the archdiocese wants to send him back, then provide the information you promised and help clear the man," Wright said.
Zwilling said that the date mix-up was a simple mistake and was corrected with one telephone call.
"I find it hard to believe that a district attorney would send out a press release about this when we addressed the matter last week," Zwilling said.
Wright said a subpoena is being issued for information from the archdiocese, and a grand jury will be convened. Early this month, the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office began grand jury proceedings to investigate sexual abuse allegations against Long Island priests, possibly the first grand jury investigation in the country into misconduct by priests.
LaBelle's removal from Sacred Heart was announced to the congregation on Saturday evening. He was replaced by Robert F. McKeon, a priest who previously served at St. Gregory Barbarigo in Garnerville.
The archdiocese would not discuss the nature of the allegations against LaBelle, but Wright said the 1998 complaint is nonsexual in nature. A second complaint involving LaBelle and a 15-year-old boy, from 1991, is alleged to have taken place outside Putnam County and also was not sexual.
A mother from Sacred Heart parish has told The Journal News that she wrote to the archdiocese, starting in 1998, about what she believed was LaBelle's inappropriate behavior toward her son. She said LaBelle bought her son cigarettes, beepers, a cell phone, snowboarding equipment and a ski pass.
By Dan Mangan
A St. Patrick's Cathedral priest who is under fire for a sermon bashing homosexuality as the prime cause of priest child-molestation said yesterday he did not clear Sunday's homily with his boss, Edward Cardinal Egan, even as the archdiocese distanced itself from his remarks.
Monsignor Eugene Clark said his comments "have been misconstrued and misinterpreted."
"The problem of sexual abuse of minors is a complex one . . . To suggest that I said that there is one cause and one solution to the problem is to grossly oversimplify the situation."
But Clark, the rector of St. Patrick's, also said the homily "was entirely my owns words and thoughts. I did not discuss my comments in advance with his Eminence, Cardinal Egan, and I have not discussed my comments with him" yesterday.
Egan's spokesman Joseph Zwilling confirmed the cardinal did not clear Clark's homily before leaving for Rome on Sunday to meet with the pope on the sex-abuse issue. Zwilling also said Clark was speaking "for himself" in the homily.
While Egan said Mass in a Bronx church, Clark handled the 10:15 a.m. service at St. Patrick's, the highest-profile Mass in the city's most important Catholic church.
A published account quoted him as linking clergy sex abuse of children to homosexuality. Clark reportedly said it is a "grave mistake" for the church to have admitted gay men to the priesthood, calling homosexuality a "disorder" and its practice "truly sinful."
He also reportedly said the United States has a "sex-saturated society" and is "probably the most immoral country" in the Western Hemisphere.
Clark yesterday said, "My homily concerned the influences that may
have misled a small percentage of Catholic clergy."
Bishop Accountability © 2003
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