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L.I. Catholic Diocese Hit With Lawsuits

Apr 14, 2003 | AP

Nearly three dozen people who claim they were sexually abused by priests in a Roman Catholic diocese on Long Island filed a pair of lawsuits Monday seeking almost $1.5 billion from the priests and church hierarchy.

The lawsuits claim the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the nation's sixth largest with about 1.5 million parishioners, did nothing to protect victims from the abuse and sought to protect its own reputation rather than comfort the victims.

"This is about the Catholic Church putting the church ahead of children that they were obligated to protect," said Michael Dowd, the lawyer representing the 23 plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits. "This is very much about the church's refusal to accept responsibility."

The lawsuit filed by Dowd names as defendants Bishop William Murphy, 13 priests who allegedly inflicted sexual abuse, and other church leaders. It seeks $100 million in compensatory damages, $100 million in punitive damages and $100 million for pain and suffering.

A second lawsuit, filed on behalf of 11 alleged victims by attorney Melanie Little, claims church leaders committed a fraud on the public by allowing children to attend schools and church functions where they knew pedophile priests to be present. That suit seeks $1 billion in punitive damages, $100 million for pain and suffering and $50 million for special damages.

"Our childhood was stolen," said Brian Dionne, now 51, of Brooklyn, during a Manhattan press conference announcing the Dowd lawsuit. Dionne said he was abused by a priest in Kings Park and has been in therapy since he was 28.

"Most of us who were victims in this way suffered this alone," he said.

Joanne Novarro, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said after the first lawsuit was filed that "the diocese intends to defend this case vigorously, as any other institution in our society has a right and an obligation to do."

In February, a Suffolk County grand jury issued a report alleging that the diocese repeatedly protected priests accused of sexual abuse by transferring them to other parishes. The report found that altar boys and cheerleaders were sexually abused, and that some youths were given alcohol and shown sexual videotapes.

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


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