Children's Advocate Raps Bishop Murphy over 'Phony' Efforts

By Bart Jones
Newsday [Long Island NY]
November 30, 2003

A leading children's advocate tapped by Bishop William Murphy to help the Rockville Centre diocese clean up its sex abuse scandal called the bishop's efforts "phony" and said she will no longer work with the diocese.

Waving a sign that declared "The CEO Must Go!" and marching alongside 15 other protesters outside St. Agnes Cathedral Sunday, Laura Ahearn called on Murphy to resign and lambasted him for failing to pay restitution to 45 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests on Long Island.

Ahearn, the executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, charged that Murphy is more concerned with "p.r. spin" than protecting children. She also said he told her that when he was second-in-command in the Archdiocese of Boston he had "no legal obligation" to call police when cases of alleged sex abuse crossed his desk.

"That demonstrated that this is a person that is incapable of putting children's safety as a priority over preventing scandal and protecting child molesters," she said, adding, "We won't be part of his p.r. spin."

At the same time, a member of a new review board created by Murphy also blasted the bishop's position on restitution and suggested he resign.

"If Bishop Murphy cannot see his way to do the decent thing for the victims [and provide restitution], I want to see him step down," said Lorraine Armet, who also praised the review board's work.

Ahearn said her group will continue to offer workshops at individual parishes that request them; it just won't participate in Murphy's overall projects.

Murphy was unavailable to comment Sunday, but a spokeswoman for the diocese, Joanne Novarro, said she was "baffled" by Ahearn's statements, especially since the diocese has sought her help and made great strides in combating sexual abuse by the clergy.

"No doubt about it, they [Ahearn's group] do wonderful work and the diocese is trying to do wonderful work, too, when it comes to protecting children," Novarro said.

The diocese has taken concrete steps, she said, such as creating an Office for the Protection of Children and Young People in October and, more recently, conducting the first round of criminal background checks on all diocesan employees and volunteers.

Novarro also said most sex abuse cases in Boston occurred before Murphy became the No. 2 official in 1993. After that, another official handled new cases.

In a statement issued last month, Murphy called Long Island's sex abuse scandal "a horrible scar on the life of the Church" and said he is doing everything possible to correct the wrongs.

Novarro said Murphy would not resign, noting that he "was appointed by the Holy Father and he intends to continue to serve the diocese and the people of Long Island."

She would not comment on the restitution issue because it is in litigation. The 45 alleged victims have filed a class-action suit against the diocese seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

The protest led by Ahearn was one of two in front of the cathedral Sunday and included many alleged sex abuse victims and their families. About 50 members of Voices of the Faithful also picketed, calling on Murphy to meet with them and allow them to use church facilities.

Novarro said that before the bishop will recognize them the group needs to better explain what it means when it calls for greater accountability in the church.


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