Cash Offered for Silence on Abuse, Priest Says

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times
January 4, 2003

A Long Island priest who sexually abused a 13-year-old boy has charged that a church official pressured him a year ago to keep quiet about his own claims that he was fondled two decades ago by a prominent monsignor.

The priest, the Rev. Michael R. Hands, said the official offered him some money to pay for insurance, medical care and therapy, "but then it was very important that I also gave them my silence."

Father Hands has pleaded guilty in Nassau County to sexually abusing a teenage boy over a one-year period beginning in 1999. He faces up to four years in prison at his sentencing on Jan. 15, and faces other charges in Suffolk County related to abuse of the boy.

The monsignor, Charles Ribaudo, was forced to resign last March as pastor of St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church in Oyster Bay. He has denied molesting Father Hands.

Yesterday, Michael Dowd, the lawyer for Father Hands's victim, said he had spoken to two other people who accused Monsignor Ribaudo of touching them inappropriately, one as recently as within the last three years. He declined to identify the accusers.

Father Hinds made his allegation in a sworn session on Dec. 26 with Mr. Dowd, who represents scores of people with sexual abuse claims against dioceses in the metropolitan area. The statement was first reported yesterday in Newsday.

Mr. Dowd said Father Hands agreed to reveal what he knew about how the Rockville Centre diocese dealt with sexual abuse claims in return for an agreement by his client's parents not to oppose a lenient sentence.

In his sworn statement, the priest claimed he was pressured in late 2001 to keep quiet about his abuse claim by Msgr. Francis J. Caldwell, who is director of priest personnel for the Rockville Centre diocese.

Father Hands's allegation adds to the sense among some critics that Long Island's bishop, William Murphy, has been less than open about sexual abuse cases in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

The bishop was also a key deputy to Cardinal Bernard F. Law in Boston at a time when many abusive priests were quietly transferred among parishes.

The Rockville Centre diocese said yesterday that nobody was available to discuss Father Hands's allegations. Neither Bishop Murphy nor Monsignor Caldwell responded to phone messages, and the diocese could not say where Monsignor Ribaudo was.

Long Island Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed in response to the sexual abuse scandal, said: "It appears as if Bishop Murphy may have brought the wall of secrecy with him from Boston. However, we would like to hear Bishop Murphy's response to Father Hands's testimony before drawing any final conclusions."

Father Hands, 36, was charged in May 2001 with sexual abuse the police said occurred while he served at St. Philip Neri Church in Northport and later at St. Raphael's in East Meadow. In his statement, he said that in August 2001, while in therapy at the St. Luke's Institute in Maryland, which treated sexually abusive priests, he had disclosed that he had been fondled by Monsignor Ribaudo while a student at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville. The next day, he said, he told Monsignor Caldwell.

Monsignor Ribaudo was quickly sent for psychiatric evaluations while his parishioners in Oyster Bay were told he was on medical leave.

Bishop Murphy was installed on Sept. 5, 2001. About a month later, Father Hands said, he received a visit from the bishop. Referring to Monsignor Ribaudo, the bishop said that "it was sad because he had heard that he was such a talented man," Father Hands said.

In December 2001, Father Hands recounted, Monsignor Caldwell said that after an evaluation of Monsignor Ribaudo, "We want to reinstate him back in the parish" before Christmas. "And I was then told that the only way that could happen is if I promised never to talk about it, to never tell anyone," he said.

He added that Monsignor Caldwell even offered to call Father Hands's mother to "stress the importance of keeping this silent, because Bud Ribaudo was now back in a parish."


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