The nation’s sixth largest Roman Catholic diocese was slapped with two lawsuits Monday seeking a total of $1.8 billion in damages. Filed by 34 men, the lawsuits allege that Bishop William Murphy and church leaders of the Long Island Diocese of Rockville Centre knowingly concealed information about priest pedophilia–choosing to protect itself over the safety of its 1.5 million parishioners, reported the Associated Press. Plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Dowd told the AP, “This is about the Catholic Church putting the church ahead of children that they were obligated to protect… This is very much about the church’s refusal to accept responsibility.”
In February, the Suffolk County, NY, grand jury accused the diocese of systematic deception and manipulation in its handling of alleged sexual abuse by priests. “Time after time, and despite overwhelming evidence that priests were committing crimes against children, they were willingly sacrificing the truth for fear of scandal and for monetary considerations,” said Suffolk County district attorney Thomas J. Spota at the news conference, according to the New York Times. While the grand jury recommended new laws to remove the limitations for child sexual abuse cases and mandate reporting for all who work with children, no indictments were filed due to the five-year statute of limitations.
At a conference in New York last week, 100 civil lawyers, prosecutors and abuse victims convened to discuss the sex abuse scandal, according to the AP. Kathleen McChesney, the executive director of the US bishop’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, announced that an independent contractor would begin evaluating bishops’ compliance to the sex abuse policies approved last June by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The final report is due out in December.