The Diocese of Rockville Centre hoped to further distance itself from the pedophile priest scandal that shook the very foundation of the Catholic Church when it when Bishop John Barres was named to replace the retiring Archbishop William Murphy.
Instead, fresh wounds have opened and the church is under the gun again with revelations that Barres, like Murphy, covered up pedophile crimes committed by priests and protected the accused.
Though Barres said August 15 that a grand jury report issued in Allentown, PA contained “factual errors,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro countered that the report is true.
Bishop Murphy was a central figure in the Boston church pedophile scandal — the story was told in The Spotlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2016.
Newsday reported Murphy, as Cardinal Bernard Law’s top deputy in Boston for almost eight years, was involved in almost one-third of the priest sexual abuse cases at the heart of the scandal there. “Not only did Murphy supervise the assignment of priests, he was privy to all confidential records on accusers’ complaints, treatment, and settlements. He also took care of accused priests’ legal bills and helped arrange housing and jobs for them,” Newsday continued.
The bishop arrived in Rockville Centre in 2001 and made waves by spending more than $5 million on renovations for St. Agnes Cathedral that included a palatial residence for himself — uprooting six Dominican sisters in the process.
Murphy was roundly criticized for being hesitant to confront the pedophile problem, weed out the guilty priests, and reach out to victims after he arrived in Rockville Centre. But in recent years, especially after the movie was released, the diocese has taken positive steps to move on from the scandal. Most notable was the formation of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which allows victims to file for damages and draw from a pool of money contributed by the church. However, laymen conduct the interviews and distribute the funds with no input from the church.
The evaluation of the claims and any award of money will be made by Kenneth Feinberg (who oversaw the 9/11 compensation fund) and Camille Biros. According to the IRCP program rules, the diocese will not have a say in the compensation decisions.
Barres, on paper, seemed the perfect choice to move the diocese beyond the scandal-plagued years. Barres, 57, was born in Larchmont, NY and educated at Princeton, New York University, and Catholic University. He served in Allentown for almost 10 years.
But the bombshell report, issued last week, details extensive sexual abuse and cover-ups in Pennsylvania, including Allentown, during Barres’ tenure there. Although he was not accused of molesting any children, the grand jury report alleges he covered up the molestation of two boys, ages 12 and 13, by the same priest, Rev. Michael Lawrence.
Lawrence, according to the report, acknowledged he abused a 12-year-old boy in 1982, yet he was allowed to continue working with children for more than two decades.
The report, based on an 18-month investigation, determined that more than 300 priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused at least 1000 children over seven decades.
Barres recommended to the Vatican in 2014 that Lawrence remain in retired status and not be removed from the priesthood, despite a second allegation of sexually abusing a boy, according to the grand jury report. That meant the disgraced priest would remain under the church umbrella and be provided with a residence, meals, health care, and be given a monthly cash stipend for the rest of his life.
Barres is contacting Shapiro to correct “the errors” in the report, spokesman for the diocese Sean Dolan told Newsday. He did not return an email from The Independent by press time.
“Every bishop inherits the history of his diocese. It falls to him to shoulder any failings from the past, to apologize, to ask forgiveness, to promote healing, and to do what he can to prevent recurrence,” said Allentown Bishop Alfred Schlert. “The grand jury report is a sad and humbling account of the priesthood used for evil purposes. The victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse have suffered terribly, and it is my sincere hope that the report is an important step in their healing and recovery.”
Barres said allegations that the diocese “discredited abuse victims” were “absolutely” untrue. “The 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report contains certain statements concerning how Bishop Barres and the Diocese handled the case of a priest removed from ministry named Michael Lawrence. The Report is materially incorrect on these points,” read a letter posted on the diocese website on August 17. “Bishop Barres has spent many years talking to and counseling the survivors of abuse (including the survivors of abuse elsewhere in society who should not be forgotten) and is aware of how devastating it can be to survivors and their families,” read a statement on the Rockville Centre website.
“The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors,” said a statement issued by the Vatican on Thursday.
“Regarding the report made public in Pennsylvania, there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke wrote on behalf of Pope Francis.