By Wilko Martínez-Cachero and Rachael Eyler
After a sexual abuse lawsuit was filed on Oct. 16 against the Rockville Centre diocese and Patchogue’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and a Gallup survey indicated that only 39 percent of practicing Catholics now attend weekly church services, Long Island churches claim that attendance remains strong.
61 clergymen have been previously accused of sexual abuse in the Rockville Centre diocese, according to Bishop Accountability. Accusations of abuse range back to the 1950s.
“My wounds from the actions of the priest and the diocese who seems to have covered it up are still fresh and I deal with that pain every day,” Sean O’Brien, a former victim who now runs the From Darkness into Light Foundation, said. “Literally every day because the disabilities are permanent and I experience pain both physically and emotionally every day.”
“The Diocese remains robust in all efforts to protect children, young adults and vulnerable populations,” Sean Dolan, the director of communications for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said in a statement over e-mail. “The recent developments are a reminder that we must remain ever-vigilant and proactive.”
O’Brien was allegedly abused at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre in the early 1980s. He was unable to get help until 2017 when the Diocese of Rockville Centre implemented the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which has been used to settle with 300 victims as of September.
He also created his own foundation to try to help fellow sexual abuse survivors in his own way.
“I want to help other victims realize that God didn’t commit these acts against us,” he said. “Sick, disgusting priests committed these horrific acts against us.”
To prevent future cases of abuse, the Rockville Centre diocese has established an Office for the Protection of Children and Young People. Some think more measures should be taken.
“I think education is number one,” Jamie Manson, a Long Beach native and columnist at the National Catholic Reporter, said. “You have to educate the staff. You have to educate the priests. There are very good programs out there for that.”
Another alternative is to have smaller dioceses, father Roy Tvrdik from the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island Church in Manorville said.
“Instead of one bishop in charge of 500 priests, a bishop should have maybe 100 priests,” he said. “Then, the bishop knows the priests better as individuals, [unlike] these huge dioceses where the bishop really doesn’t know [the priests].”
Outsiders feel that the government should have a greater involvement in upholding religious leaders to the law.
“You cannot hide behind your religion if you break the law.” Richard Schloss, president of the Long Island Atheist organization, said. “[Religious groups] are subjected to the same laws as everybody else, not special laws.”
Only 25 percent of Catholics from the ages of 21 to 29 attend church weekly, per the Gallup survey. This is a 12 percent decrease compared to the mid-1980s.
“People are going away from the parishes,” Manson said. “Churches are supposed to be sanctuaries. You have priests violating children or adults and then you have bishops who are supposed to be shepherds of the church covering it up.”
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Mattituck claims their turnout has not been affected.
“Because the parish is a closely-knit spiritual family, church attendance and support remains strong,” Joseph Staudt, reverend monsignor at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, said. “We feel responsible for one another and will be there for one another as we pray for the victims of abuse and also that justice might be delivered with compassion.”
The Shrine of Our Lady of the Island Church has seen worried members, but are not overly concerned about them ceasing to attend.
“I don’t think anybody who’s seriously committed to the church and to Jesus is going to leave. It’s the people who want an excuse to leave,” Tvrdik said. “The people who are strong are very committed to try to get through this terrible situation. They realize it’s a real problem and it has to be corrected.”