Bishop, Priests Talk in Long Island Diocese
Closed Meeting Follows Letter from Clergy

By Dick Ryan
National Catholic Reporter [Rockville Centre NY]
January 30, 2004

More than 190 priests showed up Jan. 19 for a meeting with a Long Island Catholic bishop who agreed to the session after a number of priests told him in a letter that clergy had lost confidence in his leadership.

Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese received a letter in October, signed by 52 priests, who said, “We perceive a fairly widespread dissatisfaction with the way you have related to some clergy and laity.” The priests also said they “sense a certain lack of confidence in your pastoral leadership” and that they “find the situation distressing.”

How far the meeting at a Catholic high school on Long Island went toward healing what one priest earlier termed the “hurt and hard feelings” between priests and bishop is unknown. No reporters were allowed into the meeting and no one would speak about the meeting afterward.

Secrecy was assured as security guards patrolled the grounds and entrance to the high school during the day, and the doors remained locked.

According to Msgr. Frank Maniscalco, a priest of the diocese who serves as the spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington and who dealt with the media after the meeting, it was the consensus of Murphy and the priests during the meeting that the details and specific discussions at the meeting would be matters of utmost confidentiality. At the end of the meeting, most of the priests refused to answer questions from reporters about anything that was discussed during the four-and-a-half-hour session.

“I’ve sworn on all kinds of Bibles that I wouldn’t comment on the meeting,” said Msgr. Peter Chiara after the meeting.

“I can’t talk about any of it,” another priest said later over the phone. “It was a positive meeting that will be part of a continuing process and we all agreed not to talk about any of the details.”

When asked if Murphy had insisted on complete confidentiality regarding the meeting, Maniscalco replied that there was mutual agreement on the matter because “today’s discussion is part of an ongoing process so that there would not be any discussion about any of it. The meeting was preliminary and will be followed by debriefing meetings and further discussions with the facilitator and the planning committee. We don’t want to preempt what may come out of those discussions.”

Before the meeting began, priests talking to reporters near the entrance were interrupted by security guards who told them they did not have to talk to reporters and then ushered them inside to the auditorium. Later in the day, reporters and television crews waiting outside to interview priests as they left the meeting were told that the police would be called and they would be arrested if they remained on what was private property. Reporters could leave or go inside for the scheduled news conference at the end of the meeting.

At that point, Newsday’s Rita Ciolli complained about the heavy-handed treatment to Maniscalco, who claimed that the priests felt more comfortable not being interviewed.

“This has been a very good day for all of us,” Murphy told reporters at the 10-minute news conference following the meeting. “We had an open discussion that I found to be very helpful,” he said, before he left without taking questions.

In his address to the priests at the meeting, he admitted that he had made some mistakes during his time in the diocese but defended his $1.1 million renovations on his residence and gave no indication that he has reached any decision about his ban on Voice of the Faithful meetings on church grounds. According to one priest, those two issues dominated the meeting.

“The key is how this works out,” said one priest who didn’t want to be identified. “While nothing was really resolved, there is going to be great need for continuing communication between the bishop and the priests. Otherwise, we’re back to square one. And the laity was shut out completely as to what was discussed. There is a great need to communicate to them everything that happened, and soon.”

Dick Ryan is a freelance writer living in New York.


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