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Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2003

Long Island bishop dogged by scandal

December 13, 2003

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— Nearly two years into the clergy sex abuse crisis, Roman Catholic Bishop William Murphy remains an object of distrust and criticism over how he has dealt with accused priests in his Long Island diocese and elsewhere.

The local chapter of the lay group Voice of the Faithful continues to call for Murphy's resignation from the Diocese of Rockville Centre. And a leading child welfare advocate, whom Murphy had recruited for a diocesan team addressing the abuse issue, has joined in.

Seeking to allay clergy concerns about the situation, Murphy is planning to meet next month will all 400 of his priests. But a spokeswoman for Murphy said the bishop has no intention of resigning.

"Of course, he's concerned for the diocese and he's concerned that people have raised objections to him," Joanne Novarro said. "He continues to be out there in the parishes and the bishop is still participating in diocesan works. He thinks the meeting with the priests is a positive step."

Overshadowed in public perception by places like Boston, Los Angeles and New York, Rockville Centre is the nation's sixth-largest Catholic diocese, with 1.5 million parishioners.

Murphy became head of the diocese more than two years ago, following a long tenure as the top aide to disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, where the abuse crisis began. Murphy was called this year to testify before a Massachusetts grand jury investigating whether church leaders violated state law by sheltering abusive priests. No charges were filed.

Last February, a Suffolk County grand jury concluded the Rockville Centre Diocese repeatedly protected and transferred alleged abusers, but filed no indictments because the statute of limitations had expired.

Murphy was not implicated in the report, which dealt with cases before his arrival on Long Island, but has been criticized for allowing a local priest accused of abuse to say Mass publicly.

Dan Bartley, co-chairman of the Long Island chapter of the Voice of the Faithful, said while the scheduled Jan. 19 meeting between the bishop and priests is "a great thing," he still believes Murphy should step down.

The bishop, meanwhile, has kept Voice of the Faithful at arm's length, steadfastly refusing to allow its members to meet on any church property in the diocese.

"A recent survey showed 92 percent of our members go to Mass weekly and 34 percent attend Mass daily," Bartley said. "These are the people who have been banned. We are not the enemy. If we're the enemy, then we're all in lots of trouble."

A committee of four priests, who said they represented another "small group of priests," wrote to Murphy seeking next month's meeting. They cited "a general malaise and even an abiding anger" in the diocese.

The priests said they "perceive a fairly widespread dissatisfaction with the way you have related to some clergy and laity and we sense a certain lack of confidence in your pastoral leadership."

The priests also noted the shortfall in donations to the Bishop's Annual Appeal, the diocese's main fund-raiser. The diocese set a goal of $15 million, but Novarro conceded that pledges total just over $9 million with only weeks before the end of the campaign.

"There is open and public conflict that remains unresolved and it is the experience of many that life goes on under a dark cloud," the priests told Murphy in their letter. "What others and we experience is not an acceptable situation."

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