Long Island Diocese Creates Fund for Victims of Clergy Abuse

By Sharon Otterman
New York Times
October 16, 2017

Thomas McGarvey said that a priest in Franklin Square, N.Y., on Long Island, abused him from 1981 to 1989.
Photo by Annie Tritt

Bishop John O. Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The diocese announced Monday that it was beginning a program to provide monetary settlements to victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Photo by Frank Eltman

Thomas McGarvey was going through a hard time as a teenager in 1981 when he first reached out to his parish priest, the Rev. Robert L. Brown, for spiritual guidance and someone to talk to.

Instead, Mr. McGarvey said he became a victim. At age 16, he began sleeping over at the rectory of St. Catherine of Sienna Parish in Franklin Square, N.Y, in Father Brown’s room, under the noses of the other priests and staff, he said. It was there that the abuse occurred, he alleged, in encounters ranging from fondling to rape. And through the eight years it continued, from 1981 to 1989, Mr. McGarvey alleged, no one helped him, even though he revealed the abuse in confessions with other priests.

“I thought I could trust Father Brown,” Mr. McGarvey, who is now 52, said in an emotional interview on Monday. “I thought I had a friend, but he took advantage of me.”

Several years ago, Mr. McGarvey finally began talking about the abuse, he said. He contacted a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, who told the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which includes Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. But because Father Brown had died in the mid-1990s, their lawyer replied by letter that it was “wholly impossible for the Diocese to investigate this claim at this juncture,” Mr. Garabedian said.

Sean Dolan, spokesman for the diocese, said that it had received an allegation from Mr. McGarvey in 2014 and that it had been reported immediately to the Nassau County district attorney’s office. He said the diocese had no record of any other complaint against Father Brown.

Now there is a measure of justice available. On Monday, the Diocese of Rockville Centre announced it would become the third local Roman Catholic diocese to begin an Independent Compensation and Reconciliation Program to provide monetary settlements to victims of clergy sexual abuse that can no longer be prosecuted.

Camille S. Biros, one of the administrators of the program, said on Monday that they were aware of about 160 clergy sexual abuse claims in the diocese that may qualify for compensation. Those numbers are very likely to rise as the program gets underway and more victims learn about it.

In the Archdiocese of New York, which began a similar program in 2016, 145 settlements have been made so far, and 81 additional claims are being considered. In Brooklyn, which opened its compensation program in June, 214 victims have applied, Ms. Biros said.

These compensation programs do not provide the same level of accountability as a court case, because they do not require the dioceses to disclose to victims or to the public what they knew about the abuse or when they knew it. Those who accept settlements must also give up any future legal claims against the diocese. But they are having some public impact, by empowering alleged victims like Mr. McGarvey to apply for compensation and speak out.

How much abuse went on the diocese is unknown. The most complete accounting to date came in 2004, when then-Bishop William Murphy said in a letter to parishioners that 66 priests had been accused of abuse from 1957 until 2002. None of those priests were still in ministry, he said then.

The compensation program was announced on Monday by Bishop John O. Barres. “As your Shepherd, I am asking all of us together to take a new and important step in the Church’s Eucharistic Mission of Mercy,” Bishop Barres said in a news release. “With this program we are making a major commitment to the ongoing healing of survivors of acts of child sexual abuse committed by clergy.”

Mitchell Garabedian, Mr. McGarvey’s lawyer, who was portrayed in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” about clergy sex abuse, said that he had received claims related to six priests in the diocese. He expects to receive more, including from others who may have been victimized by Father Brown.

“It’s obvious that the supervisors turned their backs on Tom McGarvey when he was a child, and did not want him to stay away from the rectory and Father Brown,” he said. “So that in itself tells us of the callousness of the supervisors and the numbers of victims that Father Brown may have sexually abused.”


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