Lay Group Leaders Call for Li Bishop's Resignation

By Frank Eltman [Garden City NY]
July 25, 2003

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (AP) The leaders of a Long Island Catholic reform group are asking their members to support a call for the resignation of Bishop William Murphy, who allegedly supervised the church's response to many child sexual abuse cases in the 1990s as an aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston.

The group, Long Island Voice of the Faithful, began asking its members to support a proposal for Murphy's resignation on Thursday after a report by the Massachusetts attorney general said the bishop played a key role in the handling of Boston abuse cases, said Patricia Zirkel, co-director of the group's executive board.

"Bishop Murphy's office has not had any communication from the Long Island Voice of the Faithful asking for his resignation," the Diocese of Rockville Centre said in a statement Friday.

"Last month, Bishop Murphy held listening sessions across Long Island at which he heard a number of Voice of the Faithful members express their concerns," said the statement.

A second group, the Catholic League, announced Friday that it would begin its own petition drive in support of Murphy. "The decision by Voice of the Faithful, demanding that Bishop Murphy resign, has now ignited a battle with the Catholic League," it said in a statement.

A 16-month investigation by Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly found that the Boston Archdiocese documented 789 complaints of sexual abuse against 237 priests between 1940 and 2000. The report said information from other sources suggested more than 1,000 people were abused by clergy and church workers.

Although Reilly's report contained staggering numbers, no criminal charges were filed against church leaders for failing to stop the alleged abuse. Reilly said child-protection laws in place when the alleged abuses took place were too weak to file such charges.

Law, who resigned as archbishop in December after nearly a year of criticism over his failure to remove abusive priests, was particularly criticized in Reilly's report, but so too were advisers to the cardinal, including Murphy and Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn. Both men served in the Boston archdiocese before taking their current positions.

"It seems to us that all of the bishops involved, for the good of the church, should step down because there's a cloud hanging over them," Zirkel said.

She said the group's membership is currently being polled to see if they agree with a call for Murphy's resignation; results are expected by Sunday.

Murphy, the leader of 1.3 million Catholics in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, served as an aide to Law for eight years before coming to Long Island in September 2001.

The statement Friday said Murphy, who is on vacation, intends to respond to the Voice of the Faithful's "concerns in the near future." He has repeatedly said he has no intention of resigning.

Previously, in response to the report, the diocese said in a statement that Murphy answered all questions honestly and to the best of his ability during his appearance before the grand jury in Boston.

"Bishop Murphy is determined that issues raised in the Massachusetts grand jury report never be repeated under his jurisdiction," the statement said. "He is determined that any charges of sexual abuse be handled quickly, openly and with a priority being placed on the safety and security of the victims."

Earlier this year, the Suffolk County district attorney released his own grand jury report, citing abuse cases involving 23 priests in the Rockville Centre diocese over several decades. As in Massachusetts, no prosecutions were possible on Long Island; prosecutors said statutes of limitations had expired.

The Suffolk grand jury heard evidence detailing how altar boys were groped and sodomized during church trips, overnights at priests' homes, and many other times children were alone with their abusers. Priests also allegedly showed pornography to youngsters and served them alcohol.

Murphy, who did not appear before the Suffolk grand jury, said the majority of allegations took place before he arrived on Long Island and said the diocese has since changed its policies and now reports any allegation of sex abuse immediately to law enforcement.


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