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Rockville's Response

Diocese Denies Official Asked Priest To Lie About Alleged Abuse

Jan 9, 2003 | Newsday

The Diocese of Rockville Centre, in its official newspaper, denies that a top official asked the Rev. Michael Hands to lie about his charges that he was molested as a teenager by Msgr. Charles "Bud†Ribaudo.

The Long Island Catholic article published yesterday, however, headlined "Diocese denies charges printed last week,†reveals that there are additional allegations of sexual abuse against Ribaudo, a popular Oyster Bay pastor who retired in March.

Ribaudo continues to strongly deny any abuse allegation whether it is from Hands or others, said Wesley Wood, a marketing executive and trustee of St. Dominic parish, who is serving as a spokesman for Ribaudo. "Totally, absolutely, he denies any sexual contact with anyone,†said Wood. He said he discussed the Long Island Catholic article by telephone with Ribaudo, who is traveling in Florida. "He hasn't had a chance to defend himself†in any diocesan tribunal, Wood said.

Hands, 36, who is seeking a more lenient sentence in Nassau County Court after pleading guilty to abuse of a teenager, gave a sworn statement the day after Christmas to the lawyer representing the family of his victim. In that statement, which was the basis of a Newsday story Friday, Hands detailed his charges against Ribaudo and claimed that Msgr. Francis Caldwell told him first to keep quiet about them and later to deny them.

The Long Island Catholic article notes that George Rice, the attorney for the diocese, said "the reliability of this type of testimony is always suspect.â€

The article did not use any direct quotes from Caldwell, but said he "said emphatically that he never asked or advised Father Hands to lie to anyone or to retract any charges, and that he did not make or imply any connection between the diocese's continuing financial support of Father Hands and the priest's changing or withholding his charges against Msgr. Ribaudo.â€

The Newsday story created an uproar in the diocese and at St. Dominic parish in Oyster Bay, according to parishioners. Priests were demanding that Bishop William Murphy come to Caldwell's defense, just as many wealthy and powerful Ribaudo supporters sought to defend him and his reputation. On Sunday, the priests of St. Dominic's, without Murphy's approval, condemned Hands and said Newsday was guilty of "yellow journalism†for reporting on his statement.

Now, in its first comment since the story appeared, the diocese defended Caldwell but noted that it is aware of other allegations against Ribaudo.

"It's pretty clear they have now thrown Ribaudo to the wolves when as late as last Sunday, they were defending him,†said Michael Dowd, the Manhattan attorney who took Hands' statement, questioning him under oath for four hours.

Hands is cooperating with Dowd in the hope of getting lenient treatment when he is sentenced next week in Nassau County on charges of sodomy and endangering the welfare of a child. In the spring of 2001, Hands was arrested for having a long-term affair with the 13-year-old son of a family that belonged to the Suffolk parish where he worked as a priest. Hands is awaiting trial in Suffolk County on similar charges involving the same teenager.

The Long Island Catholic article acknowledged that Ribaudo, in "accord with the procedures in place at the time,†was returned to St. Dominic parish in Oyster Bay in December 2001 despite abuse allegations against him. About three months before, Ribaudo had been removed from the parish for psychiatric evaluations after the diocese learned of accusations from therapists who were treating Hands.

According to Hands' statement, Caldwell said "we†wanted to return Ribaudo by Christmas. "And I was told that the only way that could happen is if I promised never to talk about it, to never tell anyone,†Hands said. In return, Hands said it was his understanding that he would get medical insurance and other financial benefits from the diocese. Three months later, Hands said, Caldwell phoned him asking him to tell Newsday he had never been abused by Ribaudo.

The Long Island Catholic article, however, said Caldwell, the head of priest personnel, told Hands "to be careful†about his charges against Ribaudo "because the charges were so serious and secondly because such allegations could leave Father Hands liable to a defamation suit.â€

The Long Island Catholic article affirms that Murphy removed Ribaudo, a popular priest and prolific fund-raiser, from ministry in March 2002, after the mushrooming sex abuse scandal in Boston forced the new bishop to review the files of Nassau and Suffolk priests. Murphy, after asking for "a more extensive analysis,†began a "conversation†with Ribaudo. "At that point, Monsignor Ribaudo asked for permission to retire because he could not simultaneously manage his health, the stress associated with the allegations, and the running of the parish,†according to the article.

The article goes on to say that after Hands' charges became public in April 2002, "new allegations came forth†and were reported to the appropriate civil authorities. The diocese does not make mention of who made the charges, or how many there were or when the abuse allegedly occurred. Legal sources in and outside the diocese, however, said there are at least six and possibly as many as a dozen other complaints against Ribaudo.

Joanne Novarro, a diocesan spokeswoman, would not elaborate on the Long Island Catholic article.


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