High Hopes for Catholic Confab
Priests to Meet with Bishop Murphy

By Julie Lane
Suffolk Times
January 15, 2004

PECONIC--"My hope is greater than my optimism," the Rev. William Brisotti of Wyandanch's Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church told local members of the Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) Sunday night. Speaking at the town recreation center in Peconic, he was referring to the scheduled Jan. 19 meeting of priests and Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Father Brisotti was among the drafters of a letter signed by 52 diocesan priests who wrote that they lacked confidence in the bishop's leadership.

The meeting falls on the day celebrated as the Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday, said Father Brisotti. The Rev. King was "a fantastic symbol for us because he made such a difference."

The struggle between the laity and the church hierarchy to try to influence church actions wasn't caused by the sex scandal, said Father Brisotti. It was "occasioned" by it. But strengthening the role of the laity in the church "had to happen," said Father Brisotti. He described the current struggle between Bishop Murphy and VOTF as "birth pains" necessary to bringing about a "newborn" concept.

"We need each other," Father Brisotti said about the clergy and the laity. "We are not complete without each other." [Emphasis added. GZ]

VOTF members see Bishop Murphy as resisting their attempts to be involved in shaping structural change within the church. They're not resisting church teachings, members say. They just want to have more openness and a voice in the administration of the church. And until they get it, they're redirecting their monetary support of the diocese, restricting their contributions to local parish use only.

Members have been writing to Bishop Murphy and picketing outside his masses at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre. Many of their parish priests signed the letter to the bishop.

The intent was to get as many parish priests as possible to sign that letter, said Father Brisotti. But before it could finish making the rounds "someone" took it to Bishop Murphy. The bishop quickly embraced the concept of a meeting, expanding the invitation to all diocesan priests, he said.

But Sunday night's audience was skeptical about Bishop Murphy's intent, suggesting that he was trying to "co-opt" the meeting and control it. "It'll be orderly," said Father Brisotti. Best case would be that the bishop would hear and respond to the priests' concerns, he said.

Amid choruses of "Jacob's Ladder," Father Brisotti reminded the members that "you deal with each rung and you get stronger. You don't give up."

But he likened the process of communicating with Bishop Murphy to painting a wall. "The paint tends to stick to some parts of the wall better than others," he said. "Information, no matter how clear, isn't going to stick to some minds." At the same time, he said he's struggled to understand Bishop Murphy's antipathy toward VOTF.

Bishop Murphy's problem with VOTF developed when he served as an assistant to Bernard Cardinal Law in Boston, said Father Brisotti. He saw people in Boston "turning against him and his friend Cardinal Law," he said. "He feels betrayed by people up there." But Bishop Murphy isn't in Boston anymore and needs to listen to people on Long Island, he said.

The cardinal was forced to tender his resignation after being accused of failing to deal effectively with clergy charged with sexual abuse of children in that diocese. The Massachusetts state attorney general has cited Bishop Murphy as one of those who was aware of the practice of transferring errant priests from parish to parish instead of dealing with problems caused by their actions.

Since the bishop came to Long Island, he has prohibited local churches from hosting VOTF meetings and has refused to meet with VOTF representatives. When Father Brisotti opened his church to a VOTF chapter, he got a call from one a diocesan official "suggesting" that it wasn't a good idea. He asked if he were being "ordered" not to allow the group to use the church and subsequently met directly with Bishop Murphy.

He described an informal meeting with Bishop Murphy who, shirtsleeves rolled up, was cooking pasta and talking while "fidgeting" with a letter opener in his hand. "He reminded me of something out of the 'Godfather,' " said Father Brisotti. "He's an interesting guy in some ways."

Attempts to open communication with the bishop are something like having an elephant in the room and "we're all talking about the elephant" but the bishop doesn't even see it, he said.

"Sometimes you wonder why [the church hierarchy] doesn't understand," he said. "Then I wonder what I don't understand." He said the bishop wants VOTF to "go away, but we're going to be here till the bitter end." Father Brisotti is also among the leaders of the fledgling Voice of the Ordained who are working on goals similar to those of VOTF.

"I just want priests to feel empowered and I want you to feel empowered," he told the VOTF members. If Monday's meeting is successful, "as much as possible will be said. The best paint will be put out there."

And if the communication fails, "We'll all still be here," he said.


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