ROCKVILLE CENTRE (NY)
The Suffolk Times [Mattituck NY]
April 28, 2021
By Grant Parpan
A recent bankruptcy court filing by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre sheds new light on the scope of sexual abuse by clergy who served on the North Fork, but critics say they believe an attached list of abusers omits the names of dozens more perpetrators.
The April 15 filing documents allegations against some former local priests who hadn’t previously been publicly accused of abuse and offers new details about locations where incidents occurred here and elsewhere on the East End.
But attorneys representing victims of clergy sex abuse say the report excludes allegations leveled at prominent figures in the Catholic church on Long Island, including the late Bishop John McGann and Msgr. Alan Placa.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, Mass., whose work with clergy sexual abuse victims aided the 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting of the Boston Globe and was depicted in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” has filed three civil complaints on behalf of alleged victims of Bishop McGann, who led the Diocese from 1976 to 2000.
“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,” Mr. Garabedian said in an email. “History has taught us that a Diocese may not list a sexually abusive priest because that priest has only been credibly accused once. To take such deceptive action only endangers children and prevents victims from healing.”
Sean Dolan, a spokesperson for the Diocese, did not respond to a request for comment this week. Addressing similar comments from Mr. Garabedian in a report in Newsday this week, Mr. Dolan said the list was not determined by the church but rather by the bankruptcy court.
“It is a matter of public record that the court determined the objective criteria for the list and the Diocese was simply following the court order,” he told Newsday.
In total, the Diocese listed 101 accused clergy members, though a committee of unsecured creditors has published 46 more names. The Diocese list includes 16 priests who served at Catholic churches between Wading River and Greenport. The committee’s list, which it says has not been independently investigated, includes a priest who served at St. John the Baptist in Wading River in the 1960s and was later accused of abuse in Dallas, Texas.
The list of accused priests with local ties spans nearly 70 years, from 1941 to 2010. Some of the allegations have been known for decades, like those leveled at Father Joseph Mundy, who served as pastor at St. John the Baptist from 1994-99 (and earlier as a priest at Sacred Heart in Cutchogue) and was named in media reports as the first of 23 priests in the Suffolk County Grand Jury Report released in 2003.
Allegations against Father John Vitsas, a predecessor of Father Mundy, who served as pastor of the Wading River parish from 1973 to 1989, had not been previously reported. Father Vitsas was accused of sexual abuse at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Hicksville, where he served for 14 years before his assignment to St. John’s.
Many of the allegations of abuse by local priests occurred elsewhere, according to the court filing, though the report lists some local churches as abuse locations. Father Peter Allen, who served at Sacred Heart from 1990 to 2006, is accused of abuse that allegedly took place at the Cutchogue church.
Father James Bergin, who was a chaplain at Camp Molloy in Mattituck in 1961 and a pastor at St. John the Evangelist in the 1980s, was accused of abuse at that Riverhead church. Father Mundy, as had previously been reported, allegedly abused his victim at the Wading River church, as well as in his car, a movie theater, a New York City nightclub and a home in New Hampshire.
Other nearby locations where abuse by priests in the Diocese allegedly occurred include Calverton National Cemetery, Wildwood State Park, Baiting Hollow Scout Camp, the Leisure Village retirement community in Ridge and two undisclosed locations on Shelter Island, according to the filing.
The Diocese announced last September that it filed for bankruptcy following more than 200 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy members. The lawsuits stem from the Child Victims Act, which New York passed in 2019 to extend the time allowed for victims of sexual abuse to bring litigation.
The old law allowed for child sexual abuse offenses to be prosecuted only within five years from their occurrence and civil lawsuits could only be brought within three years from the victim’s 18th birthday. The new law allows the victims to bring a civil lawsuit at any time before they turn 55. The law also created a one-year window during which victims of sexual abuse could file civil lawsuits regardless of when the abuse occurred. Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended that time until Aug. 14, 2021, due to the pandemic.
At the time it filed for bankruptcy, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which serves more than 1.5 million people, was the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the U.S. to file for bankruptcy.
The following is a complete list of priests named in the April 15 court filing who served in local parishes. In many cases, the alleged abuse occurred elsewhere.
Peter Allen, Sacred Heart in Cutchogue (1990-2006)
James Bergin, Camp Molloy in Mattituck (1961) and St. John the Evangelist in Riverhead (1980-87)
James Bogert, St. Patrick in Southold (1967)
William Burke, St. Patrick (1961-62)
Thomas Colgan, St. Agnes in Greenport, Our Lady of Ostrabrama in Cutchogue (2001) and St. Isidore in Riverhead (2003)
Mario Costa, St. John the Evangelist (1954-55)
William Dailey, St. Patrick (1968)
George Mitchell, St. Patrick (1995-2010)
James Miller, Sacred Heart (1983 and 1991)
Joseph Mundy, Sacred Heart (1986-88) and St. John the Baptist in Wading River (1994-99)
Thomas Murphy, Camp Immaculate in Mattituck (1970) and St. Mark in Shoreham (2002-03)
Kenneth Nee, St. John the Evangelist (1953-61)
Adam Joseph Pfundstein, St. John the Evangelist (1941-48)
Donald Shane, Sacred Heart (1966-69)
Augustine Sheehan, St. John the Baptist (1966-70)
John Vitsas, St. John the Baptist (1973-89)