The Diocese of Rockville Centre established an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for survivors of sexual abuse by local clergy, it announced on Oct. 16. But the effort does not provide a voice for victims, said former West Hempstead resident Dave McGuire.
“It’s not about reconciliation. It’s about [the diocese] protecting themselves,” said McGuire, who alleges that he was a victim of clergy abuse from 1980 to 1982. “Rather than allowing the law to be the arbiter of whatever damages had occurred and whatever compensation needs to be paid, they want to keep it a secret, and they want to do it internally.”
McGuire, who currently lives in Los Angeles, said that he was 13 when he was sexually abused at St. Thomas the Apostle parish in West Hempstead, where he attended parochial school and was an altar boy.
“I think the culture in society at that time was that the Catholic clergy was kind of superhuman in a way,” McGuire said. “They were fairly untouchable and they were really held up on a pedestal.”
Phase one of the reconciliation program, modeled after those created in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn over the past year to help victims of abuse by priests and deacons, began on Oct. 16, and will handle claims already made to the diocese. The program is funded by investment returns and insurance programs.
Anyone wishing to file a claim of sexual abuse not previously reported to the diocese may be eligible to participate in phase two of the program, which the diocese anticipates launching in January. All claims will be investigated by the program’s administrators, including an independent oversight committee.
Garden City attorney Melanie Little, who represented McGuire, has represented more than 50 men and women abused by clergy in the Diocese of Rockville Centre since the scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002.
“While no amount of money can compensate a survivor of childhood sex abuse for the loss of his or her innocence, a stolen childhood and the potential inability to ever fully trust again,” Little said, “it is my hope that the settlements resulting from the compensation program will enable those of my clients who wish to participate to begin the healing process and move forward with dignity and at least partial resolution to a past they did not choose.”
Bishop John Barres, leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s 1.5 million Catholics, offered similar remarks in a statement: “We as a Church recognize that no amount of monetary compensation could ever erase or undo the grave harm suffered by survivors of child abuse. Still, we embrace Christ’s healing power and the Mission of Mercy of the Catholic Church as we begin our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation program.”
McGuire, 50, said that in the years since he was abused, he has struggled with alcohol and substance abuse, and behavioral issues. “Looking back on it now, I was really just trying to medicate all the anxiety from the sexual abuse that I dealt with growing up,” he said. “The abuse wasn’t [physically] forced on me, but it was psychologically manipulated.”
McGuire entered rehab in 2001 and came forward about his abuse in 2002. That year, he was hospitalized after he attempted suicide. At that point, everything in his life became secondary to simply staying alive, and he sought therapy.
“My relationships, my career, none of that mattered,” McGuire said. “I was just trying to save my life.”
After nine years of therapy, McGuire is now a marriage and family therapist who treats addiction and trauma. “My life became about healing myself, so I was completely focused on educating myself about what this has done to me and how I need to get better,” he said, adding that he hopes that other victims will realize that they are not alone.
McGuire also said that victims don’t have to stay silent about this issue anymore, and that they don’t have to go through the diocese to seek help.
McGuire said he hopes State Legislature follows the lead of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and passes the Child Victims Act, which would create one- and three-year windows during which prosecutors could revisit old child abuse cases that are past the state’s statutes of limitations — one year in criminal cases and three years in civil cases.“That way, we could actually get in front of the court and have the full truth of past revealed so there can be real reconciliation,” he said. “The reconciliation can’t take place until there’s a full account of what happened.”
- Ben Strack contributed to this story.