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Diocese Shifted Abusive Priests, Report Says

Feb 11, 2003 | AP

The Diocese of Rockville Centre repeatedly protected priests accused of sexual abuse by transferring them to other parishes, according to a special grand jury report released yesterday.

The report found that altar boys and cheerleaders were sexually abused, and that some youths were given alcohol and shown sexual videotapes in rectory bedrooms.

"Professional treatment recommendations were ignored, and dangerous priests allowed to minister to children. Diocesan policy was to expend as little financial capital as possible to assist victims but to be well prepared for the possibility of enormous financial and legal liability," according to the report, released by the Suffolk County district attorney's office.

"Abusive priests were transferred from parish to parish and between dioceses. Abusive priests were protected under the guise of confidentiality, their histories mired in secrecy," the report said.

The grand jury was unable to file indictments against the diocese because the five-year statute of limitations had expired.

Citing their inability to file indictments, the grand jury recommended amending several state laws to eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse allegations and including clergy among those who are required to report suspected child abuse directly to police.

"It is very clear, and this grand jury has found with certainty, that this diocese is incapable of policing its own," District Attorney Thomas Spota said.

Diocesan spokeswoman Joanne Novarro said the diocese "unequivocally rejects the characterization of its actions given by this report, specifically the accusation that the Diocese of Rockville Centre conceived and agreed to a plan using deception and intimidation to prevent victims from seeking legal solutions."

The Rockville Centre diocese covers 1.3 million Catholics in Suffolk and Nassau counties on Long Island; it has 134 parishes and is the sixth largest in the nation.

In one case described in the report, a priest found to be in possession of a pornographic video involving a 15-year-old boy was never criminally prosecuted even after admitting to the crime.

Another priest who helped file a claim on behalf of a female abuse victim was prevented by church officials from receiving another assignment.

The diocese also failed to thoroughly screen candidates for the priesthood and did not keep adequate files on clergymen about whom it had received warnings.

The special grand jury interviewed 97 witnesses over eight months.

They included 47 victims or family members; 31 priests; and seven members of the diocese hierarchy.

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