After an eight-month investigation, a grand jury has reported that Roman Catholic officials protected 58 sexually abusive priests in a Long Island diocese, called the diocese's policy toward victims a sham and urged New York legislators to tighten state laws on child molestation.

Because New York has a five-year statute of limitations on criminal charges of child sexual abuse, the Suffolk County grand jury was unable to indict any priests in the Rockville Centre diocese, which covers 1.3 million Catholics and is headed by Bishop William F. Murphy, a former assistant to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston.

Instead, the grand jurors issued a 181-page report that graphically recounts allegations of rape and molestation by Long Island priests, including one who allegedly abused a boy and then addressed a crucifix on the wall, saying, "I'll talk to you later."

Although in 1985 the diocese adopted a written policy on sexual abuse with a "pastoral tone," the report said, "it was a sham" from the start. "Victims were deceived; priests who were civil attorneys portrayed themselves as interested in the concerns of victims and pretended to be acting for their benefit while they acted only to protect the diocese," it said.

In a three-page public response yesterday, the diocese said it "unequivocally rejects" the grand jury's characterizations. "Specifically, the accusation that the Diocese of Rockville Centre conceived and agreed to a plan using deception and intimidation to prevent victims from seeking legal solutions to their problems is simply not true," the diocese said.

The report recommends that New York eliminate its time limit on prosecuting child sexual abuse and require clergy to report allegations of abuse to civil authorities. The diocese said Murphy, who became bishop of the Rockville Centre diocese in 2001, has endorsed a bill to extend the statute of limitations and has called on the legislature "to make all who work with children mandatory reporters" of child abuse.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota said the grand jury heard testimony by 97 witnesses, including 37 priests, and reviewed thousands of pages from church archives. In all those documents, he said, there was no evidence that the diocese ever reported criminal conduct by priests to civil authorities.