Newsday.com, Apr. 14, 2003
By Rita Ciolli, Staff Writer
The Diocese of Rockville Centre and its top hierarchy were sued for hundreds of millions of dollars today by 34 men claiming they were abused by priests as children. The two lawsuits seeking hundreds of millions of dollars were filed in Nassau State Supreme Court.
Named in the lawsuits were the current leader, Bishop William Murphy, past bishops, the three monsignors who headed the controversial “intervention team” that dealt with abuse claims, as well as the 13 priests accused of sexually assaulting children. The civil lawsuits are structured around the findings of a scathing Suffolk county grand jury report released two months ago that found not only abuse but an extensive cover-up by the diocese.
The two separate lawsuits were made public at press conferences held by the attorneys who filed the complaints, Melanie Little, of Garden City and Michael Dowd of Manhattan. To be successful the abuse claims, one of which dates back to 1959, must overcome a considerable legal obstacle: that the period time to sue under state law had run out a long time ago.
Little said the Suffolk grand jury report, detailing the diocesan efforts to shuffle priests around and keep victims quiet, is the key to convincing a judge to allow the lawsuit to proceed.
“There is a mountain of evidence that what the diocese did was perpetuate a fraud on the Catholics of Long Island and the general public. They knew the schools and the churches were not safe, they were infested with pedophiles,” said Little.
The diocese, which has about $11 million in a special fund to handle abuse claims, said it will fight back.
“The diocese intends to defend this case vigorously, as any other institution in our society has a right and an obligation to do,” said Joanne Novarro, a spokeswoman for diocese. “Once diocesan officials and their attorneys have had an opportunity to examine this suit in depth, we will respond appropriately.”