Long Island Catholics reacted with disappointment Thursday but also hope after the Diocese of Rockville Centre announced it filed for bankruptcy due to economic fallout from payments to childhood victims of clergy sexual abuse.
The 2019 New York Child Victims Act lifted the statute of limitations for people who say they were sexually abused by clergy, providing them a one-year window for civil complaints that occurred years or potentially decades ago.
Bankruptcy was necessary to keep the church alive to carry out its good work, while also to compensate victims, said Rick Hinshaw, former editor of The Long Island Catholic newspaper.
"It seems to me that the diocese is doing the right thing," Hinshaw said. "They are trying to make sure that at the same time that they continue their spiritual and charitable and educational works. Their money is managed in such a way that people who do receive settlements or win in court are going to be able to be compensated."
Hinshaw added that the clergy abuse scandal is "a terrible thing what went on for years and I think all of us are paying for it now."
Rockville Centre is the eighth-largest diocese in the country and is believed to be the largest to file for Chapter 11 reorganization due to payouts from the scandal.
The diocese, which also cited decreased revenue during the coronavirus pandemic, said it expects operations, ministries and Catholic schools to continue without interruption.
"It's an unfortunate combination from the church's perspective as a whole — being hit with the coronavirus full-stop for four months and people not being able to go to church or to support the church. And then these lawsuits … which are a horrible thing," said Michael McGuire, of East Rockaway, outside St. Agnes Roman Catholic Cathedral in Rockville Centre. "Let's hope the victims get restitution and what they deserve."
His sister, Helen McGuire of Lynbrook, called the sex abuse scandal "absolutely heartbreaking because it does affect a lot of people's individual relationship with God and with the Catholic Church. And it can ruin people's relationship with the church."
But Helen McGuire said Catholics should not abandon the church and encouraged people to continue maintaining spiritual relationships with priests.
"To turn away from the church at a time of crisis like this isn't going to help the situation at all and isn't going to help the individuals that have been negatively affected it," she said. "It's only going to lead them down a path of anxiety, fear and worry."
Elizabeth Boylan, also a parishioner at St. Agnes, said she's hopeful the diocese will come out better following bankruptcy.
"Nothing is impossible with prayer," said Boylan, of Rockville Centre. "The church has gotten through a lot of rough times and we will get through this. It's a big challenge but there are a lot of good people working to fix the problem. They have addressed it. They are doing their best and I believe in the people that are trying to reorganize to have an even better church."
With Bart Jones