Williston Park officials changed the name of a street honoring a late local priest after Long Island’s Catholic diocese revealed that he had been credibly accused of sexual assault.
The village Board of Trustees voted unanimously last month to take down a sign marking Bermingham Place, which was named for Msgr. Charles Bermingham, the longtime pastor of the Church of St. Aidan. The road has since been renamed Dover Street.
Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar said the decision was disappointing to the board, but the trustees felt it was an appropriate move without making a judgement on the allegations.
“I mentioned to the board that this is America, and that you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Ehrbar said. “However, upon discussion with the board and the village attorney it was viewed as a credible accusation.”
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Bermingham, who died in December 2003, was among 101 Catholic clergy whom the Diocese of Rockville Centre said had been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
The list — which the diocese made public in April as part of its bankruptcy case in Manhattan federal court — notes that Bermingham allegedly committed the abuse at St. Aidan, where he started working in 1960.
“He wouldn’t be on that diocese list if they didn’t believe there was something there,” said Patrick Stoneking, a lawyer for the firm Jeff Anderson & Associates who represents survivors of abuse by priests across the state.
Stoneking, a Manhasset resident, praised the village’s decision to take down the sign honoring Bermingham, saying it “shows a sign of respect for those people and what they’ve been through.”
It also shows “support for the survivors of abuse and to acknowledge that this really happened and that we need to do better,” he said.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre “defers to the decision of the village in this matter,” said Sean P. Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese.
Previously there were no lawsuits filed alleging assault by Bermingham, potentially indicating private settlements in claims of abuse, according to Stoneking. The dicoese’s independent reconciliation and compensation program could be where such a claim would have been resolved, rather than in the public record, he said.
Though the sign’s removal was approved on May 10, Stoneking said he thinks Bermingham’s effect on Williston Park is still present.
“The reality is there’s still tons of people living in this community that are suffering with the scars of abuse by priests,” Stoneking said. “It’s not just him. This list had 101 priests on it.”