Bishop Accountability

Egan Resources – April 25–31, 2002

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Scandals in the Church: The New York Cardinal
Egan Breaks His Silence, and Emphasizes Children

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times
April 25, 2002

Rome - For days, most of the American cardinals who met in the Vatican to discuss sexual abuse by priests spoke regularly to reporters and appeared before cameras. Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York had not been among them.

But today Cardinal Egan broke his silence in a brief interview as he headed to the Vatican for the cardinals' closing session. He described grueling talks with the pope and other Vatican officials and repeated what cardinals have been saying -- their overriding concern is the safety of children.

"What we're mainly interested in right now is how we're going to deal with these particular cases when they come forward," he said.

The prime concern, he said, is safety for young people, adding: "As far as the Archdiocese of New York is concerned, my focus is on that overriding consideration. I cannot allow anything of this kind to happen."

Cardinal Egan said the meeting had helped improve communication between the American church and the Vatican on the scandal.

"What I think has been most important here is that the Holy See, the pope and his top officials have had a chance to explain to us their reaction to all of this in great detail, and we've had a chance to explain our understanding to them," the cardinal said.

The interview was the first time that he responded to questions since reports in March that he had allowed priests accused of sexually abusing minors to continuing working while he was bishop of Bridgeport, Conn.

Cardinal Egan declined to discuss crucial issues that have been the object of talks among the prelates, whether homosexuality has a role in the abuse of minors and whether or under what conditions accused priests can return to ministries.

"I would also say that The New York Times and everybody else has got to be very careful about statements, about reports and so forth," he said.

What prompted his concern, he added, was a picture of him in La Stampa of Turin. Under it was a quotation attributed to him saying homosexuals should not be admitted to seminaries because they risked becoming pedophiles.

"Never has anyone asked me anything about seminaries, about the words they use as gay and so forth," the cardinal said. The comment actually was a reference to words attributed to the rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Msgr. Eugene V. Clark, in a homily on Sunday, Cardinal Egan said.

When asked about homosexuals in the priesthood, Cardinal Egan responded:

"I would just say this. The most important thing is to clean up the truth. And the truth is I have never said anything."

When could an accused priest return to ministry, Cardinal Egan was asked earlier in the day. The issue was a major one, but he could not immediately answer the question. "In due course, I will," he said.

In an interview with television reporters in the morning, he had said bishops could take different approaches, investigating before making a decision or sending away a priest immediately for psychological evaluation.

In an interview in late afternoon with another television reporter, Cardinal Egan was also asked about criticism that he had shown more concern for the church than for victims of sex abuse by priests. The cardinal called the criticism nonsense. He said he had nothing more to add to a letter to parishioners in the archdiocese on Sunday in which he said he was deeply sorry "if in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made" over the prompt removal of priests and over helping victims.

"I have said what I thought I needed to say to the people, and I hope it worked," he said. "And that's the end."

Most of the other cardinals are staying in relatively spartan rooms at the North American College or the Santa Marta, a hotel-like residence in the Vatican. But Cardinal Egan is staying where he often does when visiting Rome, the five-star Crowne Plaza Rome-Minerva hotel near the Pantheon. As if to head off any suggestion that he was sojourning in excessive luxury, the cardinal mentioned that the hotel's chairman was a friend of 40 years and let him stay there.

Newspapers Move to Unseal Documents on Abuse Lawsuits

By David M. Herszenhorn
New York Times
April 25, 2002

Waterbury, Conn. - Lawyers for The New York Times and The Hartford Courant urged a judge today to officially unseal confidential court records related to more than two dozen lawsuits involving Connecticut priests who were accused of sexually abusing children.

Despite the court seal, The Courant has already obtained and published some of the documents, including transcripts of depositions by Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the archbishop of New York, that raised questions about his handling of abuse allegations when he was bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

As Pope John Paul II continued his meeting in Rome with American cardinals about sexual abuse by clergymen, and with Roman Catholic officials across the United States pledging more openness, the request by the two newspapers today met with staunch opposition.

Before Judge Robert F. McWeeny in State Superior Court, church lawyers argued to keep the records secret. They said several of the lawsuits, involving accusations by 26 people against five priests, were settled last year based on an agreement that the files would remain sealed.

The lead lawyer for the Bridgeport Diocese, James F. Stapleton, said Judge McWeeny had no authority to open files from closed cases that never reached trial. "This court has no jurisdiction under established Connecticut law to do any of the things The New York Times has asked it to do," he said.

But a lawyer for The Times, Jonathan M. Albano, urged the judge to lift the seal, saying that recent revelations about abuse by clergymen nationwide as well as public comments both by Cardinal Egan and Pope John Paul II had created a pressing public interest in the disclosure of the Bridgeport records.

"In March of 2001, the number of people who have come forward had not come forward," Mr. Albano said. "There hadn't been meetings in Rome." In December, Mr. Albano represented The Boston Globe in its successful effort to unseal court documents related to clergy sex abuse cases in Boston.

The Times filed an emergency motion to unseal the Connecticut documents on March 26, nine days after The Courant first published excerpts of the sealed documents. The Courant report suggested that Cardinal Egan had covered up abuse allegations and allowed abusive priests to continue working. In a letter to parishioners just before Easter, Cardinal Egan defended himself against The Courant's report, noting that all priests accused of misconduct had psychiatric evaluations to determine if they were fit to return to work.

Joseph McAleer, a Bridgeport diocese spokesman, said the church was fighting the newspapers to avoid opening old wounds. "As we move forward to ensure the protection of children, our focus is reconciliation, healing and closure," he said in a statement. "We believe it serves no healing purpose to reopen painful circumstances that have already been very publicly discussed, and where reconciliation has been reached with victims."

In court, Mr. Stapleton, the lawyer for the diocese, said The Times did not have a legitimate public interest in seeking the documents. "I don't know what the emergency is except that they want to compete with The Hartford Courant, which has been writing a lot of stories," he said.

Ralph Elliot, a lawyer for The Courant, told Judge McWeeny that there was a compelling public interest in examining the behavior of the Catholic Church because it does not pay taxes. "It is a legitimate question of public policy whether the defendant is still entitled to the act of grace given by the Legislature in the form of tax exemption," he said.

Judge McWeeny said that he did have the authority to rule on the newspapers' request but would hear further arguments. He ordered both sides to file additional briefs by May 6 and response briefs by May 9.

Raymond B. Rubens, a lawyer for the Rev. Raymond S. Pcolka, one priest accused of abuse, called the efforts to unseal records "baloney."

Cindy L. Robinson, a lawyer who represented many abuse victims in Connecticut, said she was surprised by the church's decision to fight a pitched legal battle in Connecticut.

"There seems to be a need more than ever for openness," she said.

Probe cleared priest on D.A.'s list, lawyer says

By Noreen O’Donnell, Terry Corcoran and Gary Stern
Journal News
April 25, 2002

Putnam Lake — The priest removed from Sacred Heart Church because of an allegation of inappropriate behavior was cleared of any wrongdoing by police four years ago, his lawyer said yesterday, and questioned why the Putnam County district attorney was reopening an old matter.

District Attorney Kevin Wright stood by his decision to look into the case.

According to a statement released by lawyer Mitchell Lieberman of Yorktown Heights, state police in Brewster investigated the Rev. Ralph LaBelle in 1998 and "advised that there was no impropriety or wrongdoing of any nature whatsoever, and the matter was closed."

"I'm sure that when (Wright) gets to the bottom of whatever he's looking at, there will not be anything there," Lieberman said.

Lieberman said that LaBelle cooperated with police in 1998 and that he hoped to return to Sacred Heart. He said the priest was dismayed about the "hysteria" created over a "non-issue."

Wright said he was obligated to conduct his own investigation because LaBelle's name was on a list submitted to his office by the Archdiocese of New York as part of the sex abuse scandal gripping the Roman Catholic Church. The archdiocese last month turned over to district attorneys the names of priests it said had been accused of sex abuse of minors.

"It wouldn't be thorough or appropriate for us to assume there was nothing else in the archdiocese's file beyond what was examined by the state police in the past," Wright said, "certainly not in light of the archdiocese's conduct of putting his name on a list, sending it to us and pulling him from duty."

Wright acknowledged that the archdiocese's action proved nothing, but added that, "it must be a relatively meritorious matter. They wouldn't send us something to look at that, from their point of view, had no need for examination."

Wright said the archdiocese has called the accusations against LaBelle nonsexual in nature, though he would not characterize the allegations.

State police in Brewster could not be reached for information about the case yesterday nor could Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese's spokesman.

"There is absolutely nothing new," Lieberman said, "and to the best our knowledge, no one has even made a new allegation. We are unaware of any allegation which would give reason to believe that the state police investigation is anything other than conclusive."

Neither Wright nor the archdiocese has described the nature of the allegations against LaBelle, but a mother from Putnam Lake has accused the priest of an inappropriate friendship with her then-teen-age son that involved numerous gifts from LaBelle. Wright has said there is another, earlier allegation from a mother who lives elsewhere, but he has offered no details.

LaBelle was removed from the church over the weekend, and his departure was first announced to parishioners Saturday night. Monsignor Desmond O'Connor, the archdiocese's newly appointed director of priest personnel, said LaBelle had been asked to step aside because his name had been forwarded to the District Attorney's Office.

LaBelle is one of five priests in Putnam, Westchester and Rockland counties removed from churches over the last month because of allegations of past misconduct. A sixth priest who earlier served at the Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson was forced from his job in the archdiocese's marriage annulment office in Poughkeepsie.

Wright has said he is issuing a subpoena to the archdiocese to force it to turn over all of the information it has on LaBelle, and will convene a grand jury to look into the case. The archdiocese has responded that it will turn over personnel records when a subpoena is received.

Cardinals Ax Only 'Notorious' Priests
Conference doesn't mandate zero tolerance of pedophiles

By Helen Kennedy
(NY) Daily News
April 25, 2002

Rome - Ending their extraordinary emergency summit at the Vatican, American cardinals agreed yesterday to make it easier to dismiss "serial" pedophile priests - but stopped short of a zero-tolerance policy to boot every abuser wearing a Roman collar.

The cardinals issued a letter to American priests and a final communique to the faithful focusing on fallen priests. But the statements made almost no mention of the culpability of bishops who infuriated their flocks by protecting abusive priests for decades.

[Photo Caption - His Word: Bishops and cardinals listen as Pope John Paul delivers his address in St. Peter's Square at Vatican during general audience yesterday after cardinals' conference on pedophilia.]

The closest the cardinals came to apologizing for the role of the church hierarchy in protecting pedophile clergy was in their letter to fellow priests.

"We regret that episcopal oversight has not been able to preserve the church from this scandal," they wrote.

In their communique, the cardinals recommended the immediate removal from the ministry of a priest who has "become notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory, sexual abuse of minors."

The fate of a first-offender priest was left to his bishop. The cardinals said that if the bishop judged the priest might molest again, he should be removed "in order to avoid grave scandal in the future and to safeguard the common good of the church."

The cardinals did not say what should happen to a priest who commits abuse and is not judged to be a further threat.

"That will certainly be one of the hotly debated questions," said Illinois Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, which will take up the recommendations in June and work out a national policy. "I'm having zero tolerance."

The statement came at the end of two days of intense meetings among the American cardinals, Pope John Paul and top Vatican bishops called to quell the sex scandal engulfing the U.S. church.

It made no mention of establishing nonclerical review boards. Washington's Theodore Cardinal McCarrick said it must be an oversight because the idea was discussed and enjoyed much approval.

However, the cardinals made a point of saying how carefully the statement was written, noting they were "all wordsmiths" and that it was two hours late because of final revisions.

The statement also did not mention turning over information to civil authorities, though the Pope appeared to endorse the idea by calling child molestation "a crime" as well as a sin.

The cardinals, who are flying home today, will return to a continuing legal threat.

In Boston, lawyers are waiting to depose Bernard Cardinal Law. In the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Queens district attorney is pressing Bishop Thomas Daily for more records. And Philadelphia's district attorney announced she was convening a grand jury to investigate claims of sexual abuse by priests.

The legal threat may be the reason the meetings did not produce a stronger mea culpa, said Robert Mickens, a former seminarian who is Vatican correspondent for the Catholic paper The Tablet.

"I just can't believe they didn't apologize, except that maybe they think it could be used against them in a court of law," he said. "You have to remember that most of these guys are lawyers."

Law, who has admitted covering for at least two serial pedophiles, was not asked to resign.

Though all the cardinals were scheduled to appear at a press briefing to explain their communique, Law was among many no-shows, drawing unusually hostile questions from reporters.

"Where is the senior American cardinal?" one asked. "Why isn't he speaking to us?"

James Cardinal Stafford said resignation is only one method of atonement and that there were others that are "equally rigorous," mentioning prayers and retreats.

New York's Edward Cardinal Egan explained earlier in the day that they had trouble agreeing on how to treat an accusation against a priest.

"Do we immediately put an end to everything, or does this person have a right to some kind of hearing?" Egan said.

"You're weighing two values: the value of protection of the child, which has to be the first, and the value of the protection of the person's good name," he said. "Can you immediately walk away from that person? Can you take an action whereby it looks as though he's accused and therefore he's guilty?"

McCarrick said there was debate about how much should be retroactive.

"Say 30 years ago, someone had some trouble and since then has never had any trouble, and the people say he is a good man," he said. "Do I say, 'You're out?' "

The cardinals also said:

There would be no change or further discussion of celibacy, saying there was no link to pedophilia, though 75% of U.S. Catholics support letting priests marry.

Admission requirements at seminaries should be reviewed.

The problem facing the church should not be considered pedophilia because most of the incidents involved adolescents.

A day of prayer and atonement should be observed by U.S. Catholics.

Highlights of cardinals' Vatican conclave:

* Recommended a special process to remove priests who are "notorious and guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors."

* The fate of offending priests who are not "notorious" would be decided by local bishops.

* Called for a day of prayer and penance by Catholics throughout the U.S.

* Vatican apologized to priests for not protecting the church against scandal.

* Vatican reaffirmed celibacy for priests.

Archdiocese Plans to Cancel Secrecy Pacts

By Robert Ingrassia with Brian Harmon
(NY) Daily News
April 25, 2002

The Archdiocese of New York announced yesterday that it is releasing sexual abuse victims from any secrecy pacts they signed in settling lawsuits against the church.

The move, apparently unprecedented in the nation, is part of Edward Cardinal Egan's effort to satisfy prosecutors and win back the trust of Catholics angered by the pedophile priest scandal.

Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro sought the change during a meeting of prosecutors and church lawyers this month.

Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling confirmed yesterday that church lawyer James McCabe informed Pirro of the decision in a letter Friday.

"In the spirit of cooperation, we will agree, without prejudice to our rights and on behalf of the archdiocese, to release any civil claimants who have settled sex abuse cases involving priests with the archdiocese," McCabe wrote.

David Hebert, Pirro's spokesman, said the lifting of the ban could encourage victims to come forward. He noted the pacts did not prevent anyone from speaking to police or prosecutors.

"But the psychological barrier in the minds of some victims may have been causing a delay in them bringing information forward," he said.

Pirro has established an abuse hotline at (914) 995-4031. Payouts & silence Like other dioceses across the country, the New York Archdiocese has settled numerous lawsuits brought by abuse victims over the years. Victims often have received money and agreed to remain quiet - a system that critics say promotes coverups and allows abusive priests to molest more children.

Since the abuse scandal erupted, many victims have disregarded their secrecy agreements and spoken publicly about their cases. The church has not sought to enforce the pacts.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, said it would follow New York's lead if prosecutors asked.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said that although the diocese has turned over 21 abuse allegations to his office - all of them past the statute of limitations - he believes more recent cases exist.

In another development yesterday, the bishop of Long Island's 1.5 million Catholics called on a nun and a former police commissioner to help investigate accused priests.

Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre appointed Donald Kane, who retired as Nassau County police commissioner in 2000, and Sister Sean Foley to the new Pastoral Intervention team. They will join the Rev. Robert Batule.

Murphy plans to add members - including parents and non-Catholics - to what had been a two-man review board.

The bishop said each new allegation will be forwarded to the intervention team, and each member will meet independently with the child and the child's family.

Murphy said Kane will "take the information directly to . . . appropriate legal authorities." But Kane said later that he would refer allegations to police "on a case-by-case basis."

Archdiocese lets victims talk

By Keith Eddings
Journal News
April 25, 2002

Sex abuse victims who signed confidentiality agreements as part of civil settlements with the Archdiocese of New York no longer have to keep silent.

The archdiocese is releasing victims of their past promises not to disclose any information about their relationships with parish priests whom they accused of sexual abuse. The decision was announced yesterday by Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro.

The action marks another shift by the archdiocese in the face of growing pressure to cooperate with prosecutors who are investigating allegations of sexual abuse by priests, including five in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties. After resisting prosecutors' requests for information, Cardinal Edward Egan earlier this month removed six priests who had been accused of sexual abuse from their assignments and turned their names over to district attorneys.

Yesterday, Putnam District Attorney Kevin Wright said the archdiocese had given him the name of another priest accused of sexual assault in that county. He would not provide details, except to say that the priest was not "practicing." One priest, the Rev. Ralph LaBelle of Sacred Heart Church in Putnam Lake, was removed last weekend.

Although prosecutors have said that confidentiality agreements in civil settlements are not binding in criminal investigations, a Pirro spokesman said that they created "psychological barriers" for victims who believed that contacting prosecutors would cost them their settlements with the church. By some estimates, the settlements and legal judgments have cost the Catholic church in the United States more than $1 billion in recent decades.

"The message it sends is clear," Pirro spokesman David Hebert said of the archdiocese's decision. "Individuals who felt obligated to maintain their silence are now free to speak and encouraged to speak by the archdiocese and by this office, to speak openly and candidly about their experiences."

Hebert said Egan's decision to "suspend" the confidentiality agreements also will free witnesses such as family members who also may have been bound to silence by the church.

Wright supported the decision, but said it did not go far enough.

"It should have been done weeks ago by the archdiocese," he said. "More importantly, what the archdiocese should say is that they are absolutely and unequivocally never going to enter into these agreements again."

Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said he did not know how many confidentiality agreements had been signed.

"(The district attorneys) asked, and we voluntarily agreed to release the people from the agreements," Zwilling said. "We've released them, and if anyone wishes to speak with the D.A.s, certainly they are released from the confidentiality agreement and may do so."

In Westchester, Pirro is asking anyone wishing to report abuse by clergy to call her office at 914-995-4031.

Cardinals' Oversight Is Too Myopic

(NY) Daily News
April 26, 2002

In addition to releasing a somewhat disappointing statement on how the Catholic Church will deal with pedophiliac priests, the American cardinals who met in Rome also wrote a letter of encouragement to clergy unjustly tainted by the misconduct of their brethren. Buried in that missive is a sentence that - perhaps unintentionally - goes to the heart of a problem the hierarchy did not adequately address.

The cardinals wrote: "We regret that episcopal oversight has not been able to preserve the church from this scandal."

Regret, they should. It is precisely the restrictive episcopal oversight that allowed molesters to be shuffled from parish to parish, that hid their obscene conduct from both congregants and civil authorities and that allowed their poison to continue to contaminate the church.

Yet even though the postmeeting statement clearly affirms that "the sexual abuse of minors is rightly considered a crime by society," there was no clarification of how - or whether - the cardinals would cooperate with prosecution of that crime. If such cooperation had been the norm, the cardinals might not be complaining that, in quantitative terms, "the statistics [on the scope of the problem] are not very clear." Police would have compiled statistics. As would have prosecutors.

Likewise, the cardinals' pointed effort to distinguish between "true pedophilia" and abuse involving adolescents was a bit overrefined for Catholics - and others - more interested in how all forms of sexual abuse by clergy would be punished.

The cardinals set themselves up for criticism by signaling that a zero-tolerance policy would be adopted - and then failing to produce one. But this might have been overlooked had there been more substance in their message. Granted, the statement was intended to be just a policy outline - but even outlines must be carefully drawn. This one has too many missing lines.

In June, the American bishops will gather for their annual meeting, at which time details are expected to be worked out. After which, a "set of national standards" will be sent to the Vatican for review. For the sake of the American church - and because the church owes it to its people and to society at large - those national standards must require dioceses to cooperate with law enforcement.

The accused would be just that - accused, innocent until proven guilty. But the gathering of evidence, the prosecution, the punishment rightly belong in the hands of the state.

Sins can be dealt with in the confessional. Crimes should be handled in courtrooms.

Egan's Tight-Lipped After Vatican Parley

By Derek Rose
(NY) Daily News
April 26, 2002

Despite the spotlight on the Catholic Church and pedophile priests, New York's Edward Cardinal Egan is keeping a low profile these days.

Egan, who was absent from Wednesday's televised news conference on the issue at the Vatican, had little to say upon his return to the city yesterday.

[Photo Caption - Cardinal Egan.]

Arriving at Kennedy Airport on a Delta Air Lines flight, the cardinal went through Customs and exited through a side door, avoiding about a dozen waiting reporters.

It was not clear whether Egan knew the press was there.

He did stop and chat briefly with a journalist waiting for him later outside St. Patrick's Cathedral, saying he had found the emergency Vatican summit "productive and beneficial."

The cardinal is not ducking the press, archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.

"When the reporters were there in Rome, he stopped and answered their questions," Zwilling said. "He just has not scheduled a press conference at this point, but he's certainly addressed their questions when they've been there."

Egan did speak to an Associated Press reporter outside his Rome hotel as he left for Wednesday's meeting.

He said he was of two minds regarding a proposed zero-tolerance policy that calls for immediately booting priests who commit abuse.

"How do we handle it when someone comes in and says that someone has done something wrong? Can you immediately walk away from the person?" Egan asked. "I don't think you can vilify either position. I think you can make a case for either position."

The summit ended with the cardinals agreeing to dismiss "serial abusers."

Fellow cardinals talking

Other cardinals have been more accessible to the press.

Francis Cardinal George of Chicago was interviewed on CNN, Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua of Philadelphia held a news conference last night, William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore addressed the media after arriving in Philadelphia and Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of Washington spoke to reporters at Newark Airport yesterday.

McCarrick said "a much clearer and more full statement" on sexual abuse by priests will be made at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas in June.

Egan will celebrate Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx, but Zwilling was unsure of the homily's subject.

Our Towns: A Family Caught Between Faith and a Sister's Dark Secret

By Matthew Purdy
New York Times
April 28, 2002

Monroe, Conn. - You have to wonder whether the Catholic Church deserves Peggy Fry.

Mrs. Fry, 51, was sexually abused as a teenager by a clergyman in the Bridgeport Diocese who last week publicly apologized. Her story is shocking in its familiarity: an affable priest insinuates himself into a devout family and preys on one of its children.

Less familiar is the story of a victimized family keeping faith with a church that inflicted pain, only partly eased by its new formula for addressing abuse -- zero tolerance plus some tolerance equals muddle.

Mrs. Fry made her own adjustments. She never encouraged her three sons to be altar boys. She attends Mass, but no longer gives money. She briefly explored other denominations, and says with a hint of heresy: "There is one God, but I'm not sure there's only one church. That's a big statement. I'm a Roman Catholic."

She was raised in what one brother calls "the epitome of an Irish-Catholic family" in Trumbull. Their mother attended Mass daily and wove the church seamlessly into the lives of her five children. "We sat around the table after dinner every night and said the rosary, all seven of us," said Hugh Gallagher. "How do you rip that out?"

A young priest, Gregory M. Smith, pursued Mrs. Fry, then Peggy Gallagher, when she was 16, forcing her to have sex repeatedly for about a year, she said. When another girl complained, he was shuffled to another parish, Mrs. Fry contends.

Mrs. Fry never told her parents and told her siblings only in recent years. Now they are navigating between a church hierarchy she sees as corrupt, and a faith they love.

Last week, one of Mrs. Fry's sisters, Pam Arsenault, an education director at a nearby parish, asked their brother Ray to a Mass supporting so-called "good priests." But during a standing ovation for the priests, Ray remained seated. "It wasn't meant to be malicious," he said. "I think at that point the victims needed our attention."

Mrs. Arsenault insisted he stand. He refused and she worried they would start shouting in church. For Mrs. Arsenault, this is a painful period that she hopes will strengthen the church in the end. For Ray, "God is still God." But, he said: "The church was our connection to God. Now church is big business."

Mrs. Fry sought solace from the church. But when she revealed the abuse at confession years later, she said the priest came into her cubicle, saying, "Get out of here! You're making up lies. This is a house of God." She wrote to Edward M. Egan, then Bridgeport's bishop and now cardinal in New York, in the 1990's, and she said a monsignor responded, telling her, "I'm not saying it's not true, but God has given me the ability to forget what has been forgiven."

When Mrs. Fry's father died in 1995, her husband, Bill, told their priest about the abuse, asking that Father Smith be kept from the funeral. "He covered his ears," Mr. Fry recounted, and then the priest said, " 'I don't want to know who it is because if I do, I'll have to do something about it.' "

Mrs. Fry sued in 1997 and church officials, finding the allegations credible, suspended the priest, by then Monsignor Smith. The suit was dismissed because the claims were too old. He was declared "fit to return to ministry" and resumed work at a Bridgeport parish and Sacred Heart University.

She wrote to the Vatican representative in Washington in 1998, saying, "Please help me be at peace by responding." No one did.

Last week, after pressure from the Frys and local media attention, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport announced that Monsignor Smith was taking a leave. A spokesman said the monsignor, who did not return phone calls seeking comment, had acknowledged the contact with Mrs. Fry and the other woman. He left behind a letter saying, "I truly wish to apologize to those I harmed early in my ministry and I ask their forgiveness."

It is a lot to ask. The pain has reached a second generation. With the family joyously anticipating today's confirmation of a nephew of Mrs. Fry, her 23-year-old son called Thursday so angry that he questioned his own confirmation. "I think I convinced him that the confirmation was committing himself not to the organization of the church but to living as a Christian," she said.

"I 100 percent understood him," she said. "I lived with this all my life. He's looking for answers and I don't necessarily have the answers."

Ire and Brimstone

By Maureen Dowd
New York Times
April 28, 2002

Washington - In the Catholic catechism, schoolchildren learn the seven deadly sins.

There is Lust, which ran unchecked -- in a tortured, destructive form -- in the Catholic priesthood.

There is Greed, which prompted Catholic prelates to defame victims rather than face civil fines and depleted contributions.

And then there is Pride, which was on infuriating display last week in Rome, where the most compelling tableau was the row of empty chairs at a Vatican news conference. Only 2 of the 12 American cardinals there bothered to attend.

As American Catholics waited and prayed for a glimmer of humility, the princes of the church strutted off to what one church official called "other obligations," as if there were something more pressing than the rape of children.

And while conservatives back home yammered that the answer was a return to clerical austerity, Cardinal Edward Egan luxuriated at a five-star hotel near the Pantheon. (Add Gluttony to the list.)

When the cardinals issued a statement targeting "notorious" predatory priests, that notorious protector of predators, Cardinal Bernard Law, was hiding in a friend's apartment inside the Vatican.

This was supposed to be the moment when these shamed vicars would make an extraordinary act of contrition, when the men who usually urge redemption angled for their own.

But the leaders of a church built on symbols could not even manage the symbolism. The empty chairs sent an unequivocal message: They hadn't learned a thing.

The cardinals chose defiance over deference to the expectations of their devastated flock, which thought that celibacy, women priests and married priests might be discussed.

The shepherds opted for arcane legalisms over actual remorse, meaningless distinctions over meaningful changes: An abusive priest might or might not be ejected from the club, depending on the age of his victims and the frequency of his transgressions, and how long ago the abuse occurred. Was he a "serial" offender or a hobbyist, intent on abusing or inebriated? To the hair-splitting cardinals, these variables still seemed to matter. To enraged American Catholics, they no longer do.

We are angry that these spiritual arbiters are unyielding when the "sins" belong to us, not to them.

We have relatives whose lives were choked because they could not get annulments -- and thus remarry in the church -- after their spouses betrayed and abandoned them.

We know faithfully married women who are forced to violate the Vatican stricture against birth control if they don't want 13 babies. We are friends with gay Catholics who are expected to sacrifice intimacy to maintain their faith.

Rome has resisted modernity, clinging to black and white.

But -- astonishingly, disgustingly -- on the matter of molestation, which any sane person does see in black and white, the cardinals divine shades of gray.

It took them three days and a deafening chorus of disapproval before they ostensibly agreed on a one-grope-and-you're-out policy. They can still water that down at the bishops conference in June.

And it will be a miracle if they don't, given the increasing evidence that church leaders in America, and perhaps even the Holy See, have engaged in a huge conspiracy, spurred by fear of blackmail. They knowingly put children in harm's way because they did not want the priests they should have punished to divulge the church's hypocrisy.

Even as the cardinals were making their way back from Rome, the Archdiocese of Boston released new documents in the case of the Rev. Paul Shanley, an unabashed molester who made a speech in 1977 asserting that no sexual act in and of itself causes damage to children, not even incest or bestiality.

The documents show that Father Shanley threatened to spill the church's sexual secrets if he wasn't allowed to keep his street ministry. They also include a 1972 essay in which the priest boasted: "My name is to be found in the files of countless V.D. clinics in this fair land. One of the first things I do in a new city is to sign up at the local clinics for help with my V.D."

In the cardinals' Vatican statement, they said of the church, "A great work of art may be blemished, but its beauty remains." Not at this rate.

Rome Parley Is Good First Step

By Michael Kramer
(NY) Daily News
April 28, 2002

Close your eyes, recall the familiar voice - or Daryl Hammond's dead-on impression - and you can hear Father Bill Clinton defend himself against those who want him defrocked:

"You say I'm a serial sex abuser. You say I'm notorious," argues Father Bill. "Well, I say it depends on what the definition of 'serial' is, and the definition of 'notorious.'

"How many young people must I abuse before I'm a serial abuser. Is one enough? Two? More? And do I become 'notorious' because of the number of kids I've abused or because a certain critical mass of people learn of my actions? If it's the latter, how many people must know?"

You can drive yourself crazy trying to understand what America's Catholic cardinals have begun to enunciate as their new policy on priests who prey on young people. Religious scholars and legal experts say the cardinals want to minimize the church's exposure to lawsuits and that the terms "notorious" and "serial" are canonically relevant because repeated abhorrent behavior can cause parishioners to lose their faith.

Aside from these interpretations of the cardinals' statement, all we know for certain at this point is that the red hats came close to adopting a zero-tolerance policy before backing away. They were so close, in fact, that Washington's Theodore Cardinal McCarrick emphatically said he and his colleagues would endorse a "one strike and you're out" policy hours before the notion was rejected.

The cardinals' failure to adopt the zero-tolerance policy is being slammed as a further coverup, a move that will allow U.S. bishops to deal with the bad apples on a case-by-case basis - and only in the future, since past behavior appears to have been exempted from whatever sanctions are deemed necessary.

But think about it for a minute.

What if Father Bill committed only one offensive act and it was long ago? (Remember, we're talking about a fictitious Clinton, not the real one.) And what if through counseling or simply by growing up, Father Bill mended his ways? Should he lose his priesthood - or be banished to some back-office role - when it might be that his current flock views his ministry as akin to the second coming?

Or what if a well-publicized allegation turns out to be baseless? In real life, that's what happened to Joseph Cardinal Bernadin nine years ago, when a 34-year-old man accused the respected Chicago archbishop of having abused him sexually two decades earlier. The twisted man eventually recanted, but Bernadin went through hell while his reputation was besmirched.

No, there has to be some proportion - and some faith that those charged with policing the priesthood will do so in good conscience.

The real value of the Vatican conclave - and the Pope's strong condemnation of sexual abuse - is that Catholic prelates everywhere now know that sexual abuse cannot be tolerated and that the guilty have no business dealing with young people while wearing their collars.

After the Vatican session, it's hard to imagine that the kind of coverup engaged in by Boston's Bernard Cardinal Law (and possibly by New York's Edward Cardinal Egan when he oversaw the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese) will happen again - although the cardinals alluded only to "spiritual atonement" for those higher-ups accused of ignoring the actions of predatory priests.

(If only to send a strong signal - but also as an appropriate punishment - the Pope should have demanded Law's resignation. At the very least, Law's confreres should have discussed his dismissal, but the cardinal himself insists the question "never came up.")

The details of the new policy have been punted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will meet in Dallas in June to develop a set of national standards. That's where and when we'll know whether the Vatican confab will result in true reform. Deplorable activities At a minimum, I hope the bishops won't distinguish between pedophiles and those who prey on adolescents. Either activity is deplorable, either must be taken with the utmost seriousness and either should be punished if the allegations prove true.

Similarly, the conference should insist that complaints be immediately referred to civil authorities and that lay people should have a role in reviewing allegations

The clerics who met in Rome did well - so far. The first step in the journey to the right outcome is the proper way to view what happened at the Vatican last week.

Report Abuse, Egan Urges
Says victims should go straight to authorities

By Nicole Bode and Jose Martinez with Elizabeth Hays and Angelica Mosconi
(NY) Daily News
April 29, 2002

In his first public comments since returning from the Vatican, Edward Cardinal Egan said yesterday that victims of perversion in the priesthood should take sex abuse allegations straight to the authorities - and he promised to do the same.

During a Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx, Egan talked tough about the "tragic situation" facing the church and pledged to safeguard the youngest Catholics from abuse at the hands of priests.

"Anyone who knows of any such thing is encouraged by us to go directly and immediately to the authorities - to the district attorney - and to the public authorities," Egan told a crowd of about 200 worshipers.

He also vowed the Archdiocese of New York wouldn't hold back on instantly reporting sex abuse claims it receives. "If someone comes to the . . . archdiocese, we will report it to the public authorities," he said.

Egan said priests accused of sexual misbehavior will be asked to stop performing any part of the ministry - unless they can be cleared.

"We ask the accused to stand aside, not to exercise any priestly ministry in the archdiocese or anywhere else until the matter is cleared up," Egan said. "This we do, not because the accusation is necessarily true, but simply because our first concern is for youth - to protect our children and our young people." N.Y. priests speak up Egan's comments came as other area Catholic leaders also promised to get tough on priests accused of sex abuse.

On Long Island, Bishop William Murphy released a two-page letter to churchgoers within the Diocese of Rockville Centre, in which he begged for forgiveness from sex abuse victims and promised to bar priests found guilty of wrongdoing from donning the collar again.

"In the past, it was thought a priest could be given 'restricted ministry' away from minors and children - that is wrong," Murphy wrote. "If a priest cannot minister to children and minors, he cannot have any pastoral ministry in this diocese."

In Brooklyn, parishioners reacted positively to a new request by Bishop Thomas Daily that parents talk with their children about whether they have been abused by a priest - and to report any such claims to the authorities.

Many churchgoers said they were hopeful that the stands by Egan and the bishops will help purge from the ministry priests who are guilty of sexual abuse.

"It's a sin, a big sin, like the Pope said," said Helen Deroko, 82, who attended Mass yesterday at St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn. "Anybody who does that should be punished."

Egan's plea to victims of sex abuse came days after he took part in a gathering of cardinals at the Vatican, where the U.S. Catholic leaders stopped short of setting a zero tolerance policy against priests accused of sex abuse.

Egan was scheduled to meet privately about the issue today with archdiocese priests at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers. Reiterating message Several times during Mass and in comments to reporters afterward, Egan repeated that sex abuse victims should report everything they know to law enforcement officials - and that archdiocese officials would do the same.

"I came away from Rome knowing that in New York, we're in sync with the church universal," he said. "If you know anything, go directly to the public officials. Anything of substance - an accusation that comes to any official of the archdiocese - is reported immediately to the appropriate authority."

Meanwhile, parishioners at St. Pius X Church in Plainview, L.I., cheered Murphy's crackdown on what he branded as "an abomination" and his plans to beef up teams that check out sex abuse allegations.

"It's about time that the bishop came out with direct action," said Maria Restani, a retired nurse from Plainview."

But some worshipers said they expected more to come out of the Vatican summit.

"I was looking for more vigilance and stricter rules for priests," said Dulce Cuenca, 34, of Belmont, whose two 8-year-old daughters will make their First Communion next week. "Priests that commit sexual abuse should be punished - not excused."

Get Out: Cardinal to Banish Accused Priests

By Ikimulisa Sockwell-Mason and Leonard Greene
New York Post
April 29, 2002

In his toughest stance yet on the scandal plaguing New York's Catholic Church, Edward Cardinal Egan will order any priest accused of sexual abuse to step aside, his spokesman said yesterday.

Egan told parishioners at a Bronx parish yesterday that priests who do not voluntarily remove themselves from active duty in the face of allegations will be commanded to do so, at least until the charges are resolved, said spokesman Joseph Zwilling.

[Photo Caption - Cardinal Egan speaks out after celebrating Mass yesterday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in The Bronx. Photo by Luiz C. Ribeiro.]

"They'll be told to step aside, atleast until the matter is clarified," Zwilling said. "We do this because the protection of our young people must be a top priority for us. We must make sure of this above all else."

Zwilling said Egan has already been preaching and practicing the automatic-suspension policy.

But the stance by Egan, who was tight-lipped in the days after a Vatican summit on the sexual-abuse scandal, appears to be the strongest public statement on the issue by a U.S. cardinal in the days since the historic meeting.

Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua of Philadelphia has said American cardinals are unified on a "zero tolerance" policy and that "no priest guilty of even one act of sexual abuse of a minor will function in any ministry or any capacity in our dioceses."

But Egan's automatic-suspension edict does not address guilt. It removes priests, if only temporarily, even before prosecutors or parishes establish culpability.

Zwilling said Egan's remarks came at the end of a morning service at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in The Bronx. After his sermon, Egan urged parents and children to come forward with their abuse allegations.

"My position has been, and continues to be, that anyone who feels that there has been an abuse [should] please go directly to the public officials, to the district attorney's office," Egan told reporters.

At least 177 such priests have resigned or been suspended in 28 states and the District of Columbia since the clerical sex scandal unfolded in January, according to The Associated Press.

That figure represents less than half of 1 percent of the nation's 46,000 priests.

Last week, Pope John Paul II said there was "no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young."

Several of the cardinals have already given their interpretation of the new Vatican guidelines, but yesterday was the first chance for them to address large audiences.

Egan Invites 1,000 Priests to Discuss Abuse Cases

By Elissa Gootman
New York Times
April 29, 2002

Cardinal Edward M. Egan, back in New York after meeting with Pope John Paul II, has invited the roughly 1,000 priests in the New York Archdiocese for a meeting in Yonkers this morning, when he is expected to discuss the handling of sexual abuse allegations against priests.

At the meeting, scheduled to take place at St. Joseph's Seminary, the cardinal will give the priests details on policies for dealing with abuse allegations, said Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the archdiocese.

"He will update them on where things stand in the archdiocese as well as talk about what happened when he was in Rome," Mr. Zwilling said. "He'll also get any advice or insights that they might have."

Yesterday, the cardinal celebrated Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx. He encouraged parishioners to report allegations of abuse by priests to the law enforcement authorities, and said that the church would ask priests accused of abuse to leave their ministries until the situation could be clarified.

"Anyone who feels that there has been an abuse, please go directly to the public officials," Cardinal Egan told reporters. "That's what we would like, first and foremost."

While Cardinal Egan was in the Bronx, about 100 people gathered across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral yesterday, to protest what they described as church officials' move to blame gay priests for the scandal roiling the church.

The protest appeared to be a response to a homily that the rector of St. Patrick's, Msgr. Eugene V. Clark, gave April 21, in which he called seminaries that accept gay men "breeding ground for later homosexual practice after ordination, and the manifest danger of man-boy relationships," according to a transcript his office gave The Associated Press.

Yesterday, protesters carried signs reading "Cardinal Egan, Don't Blame Gays for Your Sins," and "Stop Abusing Children, Stop Abusing Gays."

"On behalf of all gay, lesbian and bisexual, and transgendered Catholics, we demand that the leaders of the Catholic Church set the record straight," said Mary Louise Cervone, president of Dignity/USA, a group of gay Catholics. "You cannot use gay Catholics as a shield to protect your wealth, power and privilege."

Last week, Monsignor Clark said in a statement that the views expressed in the homily were his own, and that his remarks had been misinterpreted. Cardinal Egan said yesterday he had not blamed gay priests for the abuse scandal. "I have not become involved in anything like that, and I choose not to," he said.

At the 10:15 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick's, the Rev. William McCormack, a retired auxiliary bishop, delivered a homily that barely hinted at the abuse allegations, with a reference to "these difficult times."

Some parishioners said they had hoped for a homily addressing the issue directly. "The whole service took place and it just completely ignored the fact that there's protesters outside," said Gary J. Cabana, 42, an actor from Manhattan.

Others, however, said they preferred that church leaders discuss policy matters at news conferences, and reserve Mass for prayer.

Scandals in the Church: New York
Meeting on Abuse Cases Bolsters Morale, Priests Say

By Richard Lezin Jones
New York Times
April 30, 2002

Yonkers - Cardinal Edward M. Egan met with hundreds of New York City priests today to detail his meeting last week with the pope and discuss future responses to sexual abuse allegations.

The cardinal offered no new proposals on how the archdiocese would deal with abuse charges against priests, according to those inside the closed-door meeting. But his presence alone seemed to encourage many of the 500 priests who attended, some of whom admitted that their own morale was flagging because of the scandal.

"I think anyone would see some major effect on morale after all that's gone on," said the Rev. Richard Gorman, of the city Catholic Charities organization. "But I'm also seeing a determination among my fellow priests to get out there and show that are many of us who are working hard. I think that for many of us, now, more than ever before, we're convinced of the soundness of our faith."

Today's session, described by those who attended as part town meeting and part pep talk, was meant to not only bolster that sentiment in priests, but to generate discussion about ways to preserve the confidence of church members.

"The question is, where do we go from here?" Father Gorman said. "How do we reassure those who reach out to priests that they are touching the hand of God?"

Church officials said they felt that the five-hour meeting was a good start to what they hoped would be an extended dialogue between church leaders and priests at ground level.

"It was a very personal exchange, the cardinal talking to his priests," said Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the archdiocese. He said that Cardinal Egan "wanted to let them know what was happening."

"One of the things he wants to do is continue this," Mr. Zwilling added.

And the archdiocese's priests, many of whom have been the first to hear parishioners' concerns, said they also hoped that the dialogue would continue.

"It was a good beginning," said the Rev. Peter Gavigan of Our Lady of Victory Church in the Bronx. "It was a good exchange of views."

Father Gavigan conceded that since the priest sex-abuse scandal broke earlier this year, many of his colleagues "have been dealing with it, in a sense on our own."

And while today's meeting did not address such issues as celibacy, which he thought should have been discussed, Father Gavigan said it was helpful for priests to meet face to face. Just as important, he said, was hearing Cardinal Egan describe firsthand the results of last week's meeting with Pope John Paul II and with other American Catholic Church leaders.

"When I go home," Father Gavigan said, referring to his parish, "I'm going to say to them that my faith and trust in the archdiocese has been renewed."

Other priests said they hoped that today's session would lead to greater candor not only among members of the clergy, but between the church and its members.

"We've had so much of a policy that's geared toward damage control," said the Rev. Andrew O'Connor of the Holy Trinity Church in Manhattan. "Let's do something more creative, more compassionate, more proactive."

Practically everyone leaving today's session echoed the cardinal's newly stated policy of phoning the authorities whenever they receive abuse allegations. Cardinal Egan reiterated that policy in a 45-minute address to the priests who had gathered at St. Joseph's Seminary here, according Mr. Zwilling, who added that the cardinal received a standing ovation when he finished.

Mr. Zwilling said the priests then broke into discussion groups of about a dozen members each, and held a question-and-answer session with the cardinal after a lunch break. Some of the questions, according to those in attendance, concerned the handling of priests who are found to have been falsely accused of abuse, and the details of the Vatican summit.

After their meeting in Rome, Catholic leaders from the United States, including Cardinal Egan, agreed to remove priests found guilty of "serial, predatory" abuse.

However, some Catholics, like Desi Nappi of Yonkers, say that the cardinals did not go far enough.

As today's meeting concluded, Mr. Nappi stood by the gates of the seminary watching priests stream out of the parking lot in their cars.

"I'm disappointed in the Vatican," said Mr. Nappi, 70, who is Catholic and attends Mass at St. John's Church, near the seminary. "I think they should have done a lot more. Something decisive should have come out."


Ousted Putnam Lake priest accused anew

By Noreen O’Donnell and Gary Stern
Journal News
April 30, 2002

Three men have come forward to say that the Rev. Ralph LaBelle, the pastor removed from Sacred Heart Church in Putnam Lake this month because of allegations of inappropriate behavior with a teen-ager, touched them in sexually suggestive ways when they were growing up in the Bronx.

One of the men, Edward Daly, now the head of an upstate social service agency, said LaBelle also tried to engage him in oral sex.

"He definitely tried to arouse me," Daly said. "He projected this confidence that everything he was doing was normal and that I was abnormal for not welcoming his advances."

The other men, Christopher Gregory, a retired New York City police sergeant, and John Habermann, a salesman from White Plains, said LaBelle, now 54, also put his hands on them repeatedly.

LaBelle was not yet a priest at the time, nor had he entered the seminary.

"He touched us in sexual ways," Gregory said, "rubbing my back while telling me a dirty joke, talking in sexual ways."

A Pennsylvania woman, Kathy Clinton, also has told The Journal News that her 11-year-old son came home drunk after a beach outing with LaBelle and other boys 18 years ago, when LaBelle was a priest at the Church of the Visitation in the Bronx.

LaBelle's lawyer, Mitchell Leiberman of Yorktown Heights, said his client "categorically denied" the allegations.

"It is our understanding that these allegations are several decades old, were never made before, and concern a time period well before the father ever entered the priesthood," Leiberman said. "It appears that the hysteria surrounding this story is causing people to make fallacious allegations. There is no reason why these allegations did not come out sooner, since the complainants had no fear of repercussions from the church, as Father Ralph was not yet in the priesthood.

"As we stated before, we are certain that when these investigations conclude, Father Ralph will be cleared of any wrongdoing."

The mother and the men contacted The Journal News after the newspaper reported the announcement that LaBelle had been removed from Sacred Heart and was under investigation by Putnam County District Attorney Kevin Wright. LaBelle was among those priests whose names were turned over to prosecutors by the Archdiocese of New York as a result of the Catholic Church's ongoing sex abuse scandal, and Wright has opened an inquiry into two unspecified allegations in LaBelle's file.

Wright has said there also is a second allegation dating from 1991, but has provided no details.

LaBelle's departure from Sacred Heart, first announced to the parish on April 20, has split the community. His lawyer and his supporters, some of whom organized a prayer vigil for LaBelle, have focused on the most recent allegation in 1998, which Wright says was characterized as nonsexual in the information given to him by the archdiocese. The Journal News has reported that a mother in the parish wrote to the archdiocese to complain of what she viewed as LaBelle's inappropriate friendship with her then-teen-age son, beginning in 1998.

Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese, said he was unaware of Clinton's complaint or of any allegations made against LaBelle other than the two reported to Wright.

The men from LaBelle's past said the current allegation against LaBelle prompted them to speak out now because they said they did not want him working with teen-agers.

"He didn't hurt me or anything," Habermann said. "But I don't want him to be in a position where he can screw up kids."

At the time the men knew LaBelle 30 years ago, they said LaBelle was in his early- to mid-20s, and they were between 13 and 15 years old. LaBelle was a summer recreation supervisor at the Parkchester apartment complex in the Bronx and ran a well-known basketball league called the Ralph Basketball Association, they said.

Though Gregory and another man have recently talked to the Putnam District Attorney's Office about LaBelle, none of the three Bronx friends, all of whom are now in their mid-40s, said they ever thought to report LaBelle because they had brushed him aside.

Daly, now executive director of Community Action of Greene County, even asked LaBelle to officiate at his first marriage in 1985. Daly acknowledged that his choice seems strange, given what he now describes about LaBelle's behavior. But he said he now takes what happened more seriously because of his age and experience. The wedding ceremony, he said, was a reunion of friends from the Bronx, and his then-fiancee, who also knew LaBelle, was the one who wanted a church service.

"It was a goof," Daly said.

Gregory said the men were from a tightknit community and could stand up to LaBelle even as teen-agers.

"We knew how to handle ourselves," he said.

Habermann said that boys put up with LaBelle's behavior because he bought them beer, took them to parties at Fordham University and gave them rides to basketball games.

"We all knew that you didn't want to be the last guy Ralph drove home," Habermann said. "We would sit there, and he would put his hand on my inner thigh, look me deep in the eyes and have this serious conversation. You got out of the car as quick as you could.

"He bought us beer — we were 15 — and drove us around to play basketball," Habermann said. "Was it uncomfortable? A little. But we wouldn't have allowed things to go further."

Clinton, the former Bronx parishioner who now lives in eastern Pennsylvania, said she went directly to LaBelle the day after her son came home from the beach barely able to stand up. She said her son told her LaBelle had given him beer from a cooler he brought to the beach.

"He couldn't stand up at my door frame," she said.

She said she confronted LaBelle, then head of the youth center at the Church of the Visitation. LaBelle, who ran an Alcoholics Anonymous group at the church, told her he would never have allowed her son to get drunk, she said.

"He said he knew I was Italian and had wine for dinner," she said. "He said (my son) had a glass of wine with dinner."

Clinton, who is not Italian, said she was furious and complained to an official of the archdiocese. She said she was further insulted when the official did not take her seriously.

Clinton was divorced then, and up until that point was glad that her son had somewhere to go after school where she thought he would be safe. Afterward, her son was forbidden to go near the priest, she said.

Another man, James P. Connors III of Rye, said that he was a 15-year-old parishioner at St. Joseph's Church in Bronxville when LaBelle, then a seminarian, would buy beer and cigarettes for boys in the parish. Connors also has contacted the Putnam District Attorney's Office.

"Oh, LaBelle tried to pick me up," said Connors, a laborer for the Westchester County Parks Department. "He only knew me by face and name, but started telling me that he loved me. Then he tried to establish a relationship with my parents. He would say, 'Jimmy, come take a walk with me.' But I knew what he was up to and stayed away. Why would he be buying cigarettes and beer for eighth-graders?"

Daly said LaBelle would frequently compare him to other teen-agers. He said LaBelle would tell him, "You're not as smart as them, you're not as good. If you want me to help you, this is what you have to do."

At the same time, said Daly, whose mother died when he was 11, LaBelle would tell him his good looks would carry him through.

"He would say, 'You have the looks, you're very attractive, you're a turn-on. People are attracted to you. You'll do well for yourself,' " Daly said.

He and Gregory said they remembered going to a party at LaBelle's parents' house in Yonkers, when his parents were away. Daly said LaBelle told him he would drive him home if he put on a pair of shorts. LaBelle stayed in the room while Daly changed.

"He sat on the bed and he tried to hug me with the shorts on. He tried to fondle me," Daly said.

Daly said he rebuffed LaBelle and walked home.


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