Attorneys: Prominent figures left out of Catholic diocese list on abuse allegations

Newsday [Melville NY]

April 24, 2021

By Bart Jones

The late Bishop John McGann and Msgr. Alan Placa had been prominent figures in the Catholic Church on Long Island, which is grappling with a still-unraveling sexual abuse scandal.

But neither is on a list of 101 clergy members accused of sexual abuse of minors that the diocese recently released, even though related lawsuits have been filed against both, according to attorneys for alleged abuse victims. The attorneys called the omission of the two, who held powerful posts in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, an example of what they claim is a continuing cover-up of wrongdoing in the church.

“Clearly, the Diocese of Rockville Centre should have listed Bishop McGann as being accused of sexual abuse on multiple occasions if it really cared about safety, accountability, healing and transparency,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston-based lawyer who has filed three civil complaints on behalf of alleged sexual abuse victims of McGann.

“Clergy sexual abuse victims wonder what secret criteria the Diocese of Rockville Centre has used as an excuse to not list priests such as Bishop McGann,” Garabedian said.

At least two lawsuits have been filed against Placa under New York State’s Child Victims Act, which allow survivors to file civil suits regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred, said Jeff Anderson, a Minneapolis-based attorney.

The diocese did not respond directly to questions about why McGann and Placa were not included in the list, which the church released earlier this month as part of filings in its bankruptcy proceedings. In a statement, it essentially said the list included only those clerics with credible allegations against them.

Bishop John McGann, left, is shown in June 1996, and Monsignor Alan Placa, right, is shown in October 1997. Credit: Newsday / Jim Peppler, Dave Pokress
Bishop John McGann, left, is shown in June 1996, and Monsignor Alan Placa, right, is shown in October 1997. Credit: Newsday / Jim Peppler, Dave Pokress

The list was issued April 15 and includes the names of accused priests and deacons, the years and locations they served, and the places where the alleged abuse occurred.

Those locations included motels, movie theaters, seminaries, rectories, beach houses, cars, pools, boats, docks, malls, public libraries, ski resorts, racetracks, racquetball clubs, an airplane, amusement parks, Long Island Rail Road cars, the Nassau Coliseum and locales as far-flung as Yellowstone National Park, the Bahamas, Rome, Italy, Zurich, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia.

The diocese did include McGann and Placa on a separate list that includes accused clergy from religious orders and not trained by Rockville Centre, though the diocese said in court papers it “has not independently investigated the allegations of sexual abuse against the people listed below.”

[Note from The list referenced and linked in the previous paragraph was not created by the Diocese of Rockville Centre.  It was posted by the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which comprises persons with clergy abuse claims.]

Anderson, who has filed dozens of sex abuse lawsuits against the diocese, said the omission of both men was disturbing.

“What we have is a pattern of serious deception by concealment,” he said.

McGann led the diocese from 1976 to 2000, and died in 2002 at age 77. At the time of the alleged abuse in the 1960s and ’70s, he was a monsignor serving St. Agnes parish, the diocese’s seat, according to court papers filed by Garabedian.

The diocese said in 2019 that it had been made aware of the allegations, and forwarded them to the Nassau County District Attorney.

Placa served in posts, including vice chancellor in the diocese in charge of investigating priest sex-abuse complaints. He was identified by Newsday and victims as “Priest F” in a 2003 Suffolk County grand jury report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the diocese.

He also was found not guilty at a canonical trial of allegations lodged in June 2002. He had been suspended from serving as a priest for seven years while the trial progressed, and repeatedly denied the allegations.

Placa could not be reached for comment.

Anderson said 34 of the names issued by the diocese — or about one-third of the list — were made public for the first time as alleged abusers. Anderson’s law firm has compiled its own list of 144 clerics in the diocese against whom lawsuits have been filed under the Child Victims Act.

Until this month, Rockville Centre had been the only diocese in the state that had been refusing to release such a list.

Sean Dolan, a diocesan spokesman, said the church is working to alert victims to an Aug.14 deadline for filing claims under the Child Victims Act.

He said the diocese had not published a list of credibly accused clerics “because of ongoing investigations, privacy issues, as well as potential legal considerations.”

He added that “the inclusion of any name does not represent an admission of guilt on the part of the accused.”

Those listed were either determined by a diocesan review board to have credible accusations against them, or had a settlement payment issued by the diocese to a survivor through a Debtor’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, Dolan said.