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Diocese Denies Pressuring Priest To Keep Silent About Abuse

Jan 9, 2003 | AP

The Diocese of Rockville Centre has denied charges that a top church official pressured a Long Island priest to keep silent about his own alleged victimization as a teenager.

In December, Rev. Michael Hands charged in a sworn statement that Msgr. Francis Caldwell asked him to remain silent because the church wanted to return his alleged abuser, Msgr. Charles Ribaudo, to his parish.

Hands, 36, alleged that Ribaudo had "inappropriate sexual contact" with him on numerous occasions when he was a student and Ribaudo was a teacher at Holy Trinity High School.

But in an article published Wednesday, The Long Island Catholic, the official newspaper of the diocese, denied that Caldwell had tried to silence Hands.

According to the paper, Caldwell, the head of priest personnel for the diocese, said he never asked Hands to lie but "advised Father Hands to be careful" in making accusations against Ribaudo because the charges were serious and could result in a defamation suit.

The paper also said the diocese acted properly in reinstating Ribaudo as pastor of St. Dominic's in Oyster Bay in December 2001, three months after he was removed for psychiatric evaluation following Hands' accusations.

The Diocese noted, however, that after Hands' allegations against Ribaudo became public in the spring of 2002, "new allegations came forth." The Diocese, which could not immediately be reached for comment, did not disclose details about those charges but said it reported them to the civil authorities.

Ribaudo was unavailable for comment, but his spokesman told Newsday that the monsignor denies having had any sexual conduct with anyone. Ribaudo retired in March 2002, citing health problems exacerbated by the stress from the allegations.

According to The Long Island Catholic, George Rice, an attorney for the Diocese, called Hands' allegations suspect because they were made just weeks ahead of his own sentencing and may have been part of an effort to secure a more lenient prison term.

Hands is to be sentenced next week in Nassau County on sodomy and endangerment charges after admitting in March to having sex with a 13-year-old boy in his rectory. He faces separate charges in Suffolk County.

Hands made the allegations against Caldwell in a sworn statement given in December to Michael Dowd, the lawyer representing the boy's family.

Hands could not immediately be reached for comment.

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