How New York's Catholic Church Protected Priest Accused of Abuse

By Paul Abowd
Al Jazeera
October 25, 2019

When Tim Murphy published his memoir in 2007, it revealed allegations of sexual abuse he said he had faced at the hands of a Catholic priest four decades prior.

Murphy's self-portrait depicted a rebellious teenager who grew up in a devout Catholic family in Millbrook, New York, in the United States of the late 1960s.

As a teenager, Murphy had begun abusing drugs and alcohol and had run-ins with law enforcement. That is when his parents asked a family friend - Father Donald Timone - for help counselling their son.

Murphy wrote that this priest abused his parents' trust - detailing the years of alleged molestation he faced during trips to the country and overnight stays at Timone's residence, beginning when he was aged between 12 and 13.

"At this vulnerable season of adolescence this priest left me mentally crippled, an injury that would last for years and years," he wrote in the memoir entitled From Crack to the Cross: A Journey of Hope.

In 2002, Murphy took the advice of a counsellor and decided to file a police report. In 2003, he also reported Timone to the Archdiocese of New York, testifying in person about the alleged abuse he had faced.

Although the Archdiocese briefly suspended Timone, the priest was placed back into ministry in New York, where he remained for a decade and a half before being formally removed in August. That is when the Archdiocese found Tim's claim to be credible - about 15 years after he had made his initial accusation.

Tim's wife Susan Cassinelli told Al Jazeera in June that her late husband had struggled for decades with addiction and emotional torment born from the trauma of the alleged abuse at the hands of Timone.

"Something was not right," she said. "And it was because of Timone."

In January of 2015, Cassinelli returned home to discover a letter from her husband.

"I have been unsuccessful at this thing called life and it has impacted me in a painful, regretful, and sad way over the past 61 years," wrote Murphy.

He had died by suicide at the age of 61.

"At one point, I felt like I wanted to send him [Timone] a picture of Tim hanging in the family room," said Cassinelli. "To make him see the reality of what he did. He caused so much pain."

Sue Cassinelli shows Al Jazeera a picture of her and her late husband, Tim Murphy - who died by suicide in 2015 after years of struggling with the trauma of alleged abuse at the hands of Father Donald Timone [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

After Tim's death, Cassinelli filed a claim with an Archdiocese compensation fund for victims of clergy abuse. In May 2017, the Archdiocese of New York settled that claim - paying Tim's estate a six-figure settlement.

Cassinelli told Al Jazeera that she has been contacted by several other alleged victims of Timone who have not yet gone public with their claims.

"There are people out there that can't talk about it, and if they hear Tim's story, maybe they can talk about it," she said.

Sue Cassinelli has worked to hold Archdiocese officials accountable for protecting Father Donald Timone - who she says abused her late husband Tim Murphy when he was a teenager [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

According to the New York Times, the Archdiocese also settled another claim against Timone in 2017. To date, the Archdiocese has paid nearly $70m in settlements to victims through its compensation fund.

But the settlements did not result in Timone's removal from ministry. For another year and a half, Timone continued to say mass at St Joseph Church in Middletown, New York, and prepared for a trip to California to teach college courses.

In order to be released to work in California, Timone needed the approval of the Archdiocese of New York and officials there were happy to oblige.

On December 4, 2018, the Archdiocese's director of Priest Personnel signed off on the trip, describing Timone as a man of "good moral character and reputation" who had "never been accused of any act of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct involving a minor".

Later that month, the New York Times reported on the history of allegations against Timone - and his continued ministry even after two six-figure sums were paid to his alleged victims.

"Everyone who got that letter was lied to," said Lidy Connolly, an administrator at John Paul the Great University in Escondido, CA, where Timone had planned to teach.

The support for Timone from Archdiocese officials was nothing new. In a 2013 op-ed in the New York Daily News, the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, called the priest "a remarkably gentle and holy man".

In recent years, both Dolan and Timone have been active in a Catholic organisation called Courage International - which advises LGBTQ Catholics to remain celibate.

In August, the Archdiocese's Lay Review Board concluded that Murphy's claims against Timone were credible. The Archdiocese quietly removed the 85-year-old priest from ministry.

Archdiocese officials declined to answer a list of questions about the Timone case.

Timone did not return a call from Al Jazeera seeking comment.

Cassinelli said she had also written to Timone months ago, but received no response.

"He's never said he was sorry," she said.








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