Some may think the Diocese of Rockville Centre deserves kudos for releasing a list of clergy accused of sexual abuse. They would be wrong. Some may question why clergy sexual abuse survivors never seem to be satisfied with how the Catholic Church responds to them. They would be misinformed, but I cannot blame them for thinking so. There is a well-oiled public relations machine at work here.
For years, Bishops John Raymond McGann, William Francis Murphy and John O. Barres successfully kept allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members tightly under wraps. For nearly as long, survivors of childhood sexual abuse have asked the Diocese of Rockville Centre to provide a list of credibly accused clergy. But in 2003, when a Suffolk grand jury report exposed rampant sexual abuse and cover-up by the Rockville Centre Diocese, that request became a demand.
Eighteen years later, the list that the diocese finally “released” was only to comply with a federal judge’s order, in order to inform victims who were unaware of the deadline to file a claim in the diocese’s ongoing bankruptcy negotiations.
Because the list did not include some prominent accused clergy, attorneys for the Committee of Unsecured Creditors labeled the diocese’s actions “deceptive.” They also pointed out how the diocese hid the information in court documents, not easily accessed, even by its target audience.
These disingenuous tactics, masquerading as efforts to help victims heal, are only a sampling from the self-preservation playbook used by the Catholic Church leadership to protect themselves.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre has claimed that keeping children safe from known sexual predators is their goal. If that were true, why were they the last diocese in New York to produce such a list? Identifying and exposing sexual predators is the surest way of preventing them from causing further harm and adding more victims.
And if healing for survivors were of genuine concern to Rockville Centre and other New York dioceses, why did the Catholic Church in New York State spend millions of dollars lobbying against a law that would allow survivors of child sex abuse to seek justice as adults? Why did the church wait until after the passage of the Child Victims Act appeared inevitable before introducing its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP)?
The diocese says it wants to help survivors find closure. Then, why have so many claimants to that independent compensation program with whom I have spoken been denied access to the church’s files? Learning that there were other allegations against one’s abuser helps a survivor heal from a lifetime of shame and self-blame. Why then has the IRCP refused to share that information, leaving claimants feeling abused all over again?
On Feb. 14, 2019, Gov. Cuomo signed the CVA into law. Nevertheless, the Diocese of Rockville Centre went to court to get the law thrown out, claiming it was unconstitutional. Fortunately, they failed.
The diocese is now using bankruptcy proceedings to try to thwart survivors’ efforts to get to the truth. Declaring Chapter 11 is a convenient way for the Catholic Church and other organizations to deny survivors a full accounting. It deprives them of their day in court and the ability to unearth concealed documents through discovery.
Any of the 223 lawsuits swept up in the bankruptcy could have potentially shed light at trial on how the diocese sheltered and protected child-abusing men and women under its supervision. Instead, the bankruptcy consolidates them all into one proceeding focused on how the diocese can pay its creditors.
Sean Dolan, the authorized spokesperson for the diocese, was asked why they left names off the list. He said, “The diocese did not determine which names went on the list…it was the bankruptcy court…the diocese was simply following the court order.” However, it was the diocese itself that compiled the information and decided who did or did not meet those criteria — not the judge.
I do not mean to condemn the Catholic Church nor those who follow its teaching. But we cannot overlook how, at every step along the way, the church’s hierarchy chose to protect their reputations first instead of the safety of children.
After the church failed survivors so dreadfully as children, today’s leadership too often treats them as the enemy rather than help them heal from the wounds they suffered. Doesn’t this tell us all we need to know about their priorities, regardless of what they claim?
Toale is a child sexual abuse survivor and advocate. He filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Rockville Centre under the Child Victims Act which is now part of the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s bankruptcy.