Bishop's Supporters Fight Back
Catholic League Launches Petition Drive to Counter Calls to Resign

By Theresa Vargas
Newsday [Long Island NY]
July 26, 2003

Calling it a battle ignited, the Catholic League launched a petition drive Friday in support of Bishop William Murphy, a day after Voice of the Faithful members overwhelmingly backed a proposal asking for his resignation.

The counterpetition, Catholic League president William Donohue wrote in a news release, "will settle the issue of who really speaks for Long Island Catholics."

On Thursday, the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful -- an offshoot of the Boston group that formed in response to the priest sex abuse scandal there -- began asking its 1,300 members to support a proposal asking "all bishops in any way associated with the scandal, including Bishop Murphy ... do the honorable thing and step aside."

The group cited a Massachusetts grand jury report released Wednesday that detailed extensive sexual abuse by priests since 1940 and found a "massive and pervasive failure of leadership" in the Boston archdiocese, where Murphy once served.

As of Friday morning, Voice of the Faithful officials said, the group had received responses in a ratio of 22 to 1 in favor of Murphy's resignation. "He was part of a system up there and the system was rotten," said Patricia Zirkel, co-chair of the Long Island chapter.

On the Catholic League statement, she added, "If they decide they're having a battle with us, it's their battle, not ours. We're simply trying to point out the bishops have lost the moral high ground and it needs to be reclaimed."

Spokespeople for the Archdiocese of Rockville Centre did not return calls for comment Friday.

Murphy was installed as the head of the Long Island diocese in September 2001, after serving for eight years as deputy to Cardinal Bernard Law, the former head of the Boston church.

As a result, he's now fallen victim to "guilt by association," said Donohue, adding that his organization has not defended bishops where culpability was clear. "I understand the anger of Voice of the Faithful and I understand, in one sense, how anyone who served in Boston might be looked upon with some skepticism," Donohue said. "But at the end of the day, every bishop must be judged on his own merits."

The organization claims 15,000 members in Nassau and Suffolk counties, but Donohue said he hopes other local Catholics, many of whom have remained complacent, will also sign the petition.


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