|Woman Comes Forward
Former teacher says LI priest abused her;
The ex-nun claims he raped her nearly 40 years ago, a charge the now suspended clergyman denies
By Rita Ciolli
A former Catholic school teacher alleged yesterday at a news conference that she was raped by a Long Island priest in 1965 after accepting a ride home from a party. The priest, who has been suspended from ministry because of her complaint, said they had sex, but it was consensual.
Anne Tucker, 66, said the Rev. Augustine Sheehan was driving her home after a party for Irish immigrants in Stony Brook. The priest pulled over, then sexually attacked her, she said. Tucker said she was too ashamed to tell anyone, but after having physical pain for about two weeks, her school principal offered to drive her to Huntington Hospital, where she received treatment. Tucker said that when she recently sought her medical records, she learned a "D&C" that would have prevented a pregnancy was performed.
Sheehan labeled the former nun's charge as "extortion" yesterday in a telephone interview and said nothing happened on that ride. About a month later, he said, the two had sex on a beach. He said they may have had sex another night after a "wild party," but he didn't remember.
Tucker said she came forward after the abuse scandal made headlines, thinking people would now believe her. After Tucker's allegation was made to the Diocese of Rockville Centre in the spring of 2002, Sheehan was placed on administrative leave. In a written statement yesterday, the diocese said it placed her case before a review board of lay people which "recommended to Bishop [William] Murphy that Fr. Sheehan should remain on administrative leave." A spokeswoman declined to answer more questions.
Speaking at the Stony Brook headquarters of Parents for Megan's Law, a victim's rights group, Tucker said that the alleged rape and sexual problems stemming from it led to the breakup of her marriage to a New York City police officer. Her one pregnancy ended in a stillborn birth, she said tearfully, adding that she wants compensation from the diocese. Too much time has lapsed for Tucker to press criminal charges or file a civil lawsuit.
"I want this man to be punished," said Tucker, who lives in Westchester. She taught for 32 years in Catholic elementary schools in the Bronx.
Tucker, who also wants Sheehan defrocked, said she was not allowed to give her side of the case to the review board.
Sheehan, 74, said it was "unfair" he was suspended from his position as chaplain at the Veterans Administration Hospital at Northport, meaning he can't perform priestly duties in public. He said he was caught in the zero-tolerance policy put in place due to the priest abuse scandal. Asked if it was wrong for a priest to be having sex with a woman, Sheehan replied, "It is wrong, really, but it happens."
Sheehan, who is known as Gus, was ordained in Ireland in 1955 and came here in 1964 just as Tucker also arrived after leaving the Sisters of Providence in Kentucky, which she had entered at age 13 after leaving her home in Ireland. At 26, Tucker left the convent and headed to East Northport, where a cousin had found her a teaching job at St. Anthony's School.
"Claiming the contact was consensual is a common tactic used when allegations of abuse are lodged," said Laura Ahern, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law.
[Photo captions: Anne Tucker, a former nun and former teacher, holds
up a photo of herself during a news conference yesterday, in which she
claimed the Rev. Augustine Sheehan raped her in 1965. Sheehan, left, who
was suspended after her allegation, denies the charge.]
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