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Plaque memorializing priest accused of abuse has been covered over, photograph shows

A plaque at St. Paul the Apostle Roman

A plaque at St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Brookville honors its former longtime pastor, the Rev. Mario Costa. Credit: James Hughes

A plaque honoring a former pastor at a Roman Catholic church in Brookville has been covered over, a parishioner's photograph shows, after reports that the priest had credible accusations against him of sexually abusing a minor.

Newsday reported last week that Msgr. Mario Costa was among the 101 names on a list of credibly accused clerics that the Diocese of Rockville Centre included in bankruptcy court papers filed last month.

On Tuesday, the plaque at St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church was covered with white cardboard-like material held in place by blue tape, according to a local parishioner who took a photograph of it.

Asked about the covered-up plaque, Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese, said Tuesday, "The Diocese of Rockville Centre is gathering information and assessing the issue of dedications and memorials and will be communicating with the parishes regarding next steps."

Dolan did not comment on who covered up the plaque or why.

The section of the building where the plaque is found is named in Costa’s honor and houses the parish’s lower hall and its offices. It is located beneath the parish church. Costa died in 2007.

The plaque bears a carved likeness of Costa’s face and a quotation that says in part, "To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasures … to penetrate all secrets; to heal all wounds … to have a heart of fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity."

James Hughes, an area Catholic who took the photo and who had been calling for the diocese to take down the plaque, said, "The poster board covering the Costa plaque is oddly symbolic of the Band-Aid the church has been trying to place on this abuse problem for years.

"I imagine the temporary measure is of little solace to those directly affected. My hope is they will ultimately do the right thing and remove the plaque in its entirety."

St. Paul the Apostle this week also removed Costa’s photograph from the parish website.

Hughes also has called for officials to take down a street sign in Williston Park honoring another credibly accused priest on the list, Msgr. Charles Bermingham of the Church of St. Aidan. He died in 2003.

Dolan said Tuesday that street signs are not under the diocese’s jurisdiction. Williston Park officials last week said they were unaware of Bermingham's inclusion on the list.

Costa spent 27 consecutive years as pastor at St. Paul the Apostle, starting in 1975, other than a seven-month absence in 1982, the court papers state. He completed his service there in 2002.

Hughes, who said he served as an altar boy for Costa when the priest served at Holy Family parish in Hicksville in the 1970s, said he has written to church officials and called for Bishop John Barres to have the plaque removed.

Mitch Garabedian, a Boston-based lawyer who represents clergy sex abuse survivors on Long Island, said covering up the plaque "as a result of public pressure is the very least Bishop Barres could have done. As a matter of human decency Bishop Barres should now replace that plaque with a plaque honoring clergy sexual abuse victims or survivors as an eternal reminder of the evils of clergy sexual abuse."

The list represented the first time the diocese has provided an extended accounting of the names of priests with credible allegations against them. It provides the locations where the abuse took part, from motels, boats, ski resorts and even an airplane, to locales as far-flung as Yellowstone National Park, the Bahamas, Rome and Zurich, Switzerland.

The diocese has come under criticism for leaving the names of several dozen priests off the list, including two prominent church figures, former Bishop John McGann and Msgr. Alan Placa, even though lawsuits have been filed against them.

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