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Spotlight Report

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N.Y. grand jury to investigate diocesan actions

By Fred Kaplan, Globe Staff, 4/12/2002

NEW YORK - A special grand jury is being impaneled on Long Island to investigate charges of sexual misconduct by priests and to determine whether the local Catholic diocese has covered up allegations of criminal abuse.

Thrust in the spotlight is Bishop William Murphy, head of the Rockville Centre diocese, who until last June was Cardinal Bernard Law's right-hand man in Boston.

The Suffolk County district attorney, Thomas Spota, announced the development yesterday - marking the first grand jury to be formed specifically to investigate charges involving the sexual misconduct of priests and the diocese that employs them.

Murphy's diocese, which includes 1.5 million Catholics in the Long Island area, has turned over some documents about allegations to Spota and to the district attorney of neighboring Nassau County, Denis Dillon.

In a written statement yesterday, Spota said, ''From what I have seen thus far, I am not at all satisfied with the credibility of public assertions of the Church that it is properly policing its clergy.''

Jeanne Miller, a Chicago lawyer who in 1991 founded Link Up, the first national organization against priests accused of child abuse, called the Spota's action ''a wonderful step'' that ''should embolden'' other prosecutors to break down what is coming to be called the ''black wall of silence.''

Spota said the grand jury could be in place for six months or longer, and will launch a ''wide-ranging investigation'' not only into allegations of sexual misconduct but also into whether the diocese ''has covered up repeated cases of sexual abuse and reassigned accused priests to other parishes.''

The district attorney also said ''most'' of the allegations made against the diocese priests ''appear to have been criminal in nature.''

A spokeswoman for the diocese said church officials have cooperated with all inquiries from the district attorney so far, and would cooperate with any grand jury proceeding as well.

Murphy has come under attack not only for his role in Boston, but also for allegedly going easy on accused priests since coming to Long Island.

Newsday reported Tuesday that, just last Sunday, Murphy declined to take action against the the Rev. Brian Brinker, who was accused of fondling a 14-year-old boy on a trip to Las Vegas and inviting him into his hotel bed to watch pornographic movies.

The boy's mother, Linda Moraitis, who filed a complaint about the matter in 1996, told Newsday that Murphy called her Sunday to say that, after a review of the files, he saw no reason why Brinker should not remain a priest.

A Rockville Centre spokesman told the Long Island newspaper that the diocese knew that Brinker and the boy had flown together to San Francisco in 1996, but did not know they had also gone to Las Vegas.

A special grand jury differs from the regular variety in that it is impaneled to investigate just one topic. Like other grand juries in New York State, it has wide-ranging power to subpoena information, indict suspects, issue reports, and recommend legislative, administrative, or executive reforms.

Spota said in his statement that his office has already been compiling ''a broad range of information from credible and reliable sources that have knowledge of diocesan activities.''

He said he decided to bring the matter to a grand jury as a result of discrepancies between these sources and statements by the heads of the diocese.

Last week, he formally requested permission to authorize the impaneling of a special grand jury to look strictly into this subject. The New York State Office of Court Administration signed the order earlier this week.

Jeffrey Anderson, an attorney in St. Paul, who has brought suits against hundreds of allegedly abusive priests across the country, said of Spota's step yesterday, ''This is a potential breakthrough and it's unprecedented. This is the first time law-enforcement authorities have actually looked at the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in their complicity to sexual-abuse by priests.''

''Of 500 cases I've handled,'' Anderson continued, ''I can count on one hand the number of priests who have gone to jail. I can count on one finger the number of bishops who have experienced any consequence or accountability by reason of their complicity.''

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 4/12/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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