Could Catholics Forgive Murphy?
Mixed Reaction to Bishop's Apology on Scandal

By Bart Jones
Newsday [Long Island NY]
February 19, 2004

Long Island Catholics reacted with mixed emotions Wednesday to Bishop William Murphy's sweeping apology for the sex abuse scandal, with some hailing it as a bold and compassionate act and others labeling it an empty and disingenuous public relations ploy.

Walking into a noon Mass at Our Lady of Loretto in Hempstead and holding her rosary beads, Rosa Miriam Argueta de Sanchez, 38, said the letter released by Murphy on Tuesday was "an excellent gesture" that all the faithful should take as a lesson in humility and asking forgiveness.

But Mary Hagmeyer, 76, of Farmingdale was less enthusiastic. "Fluff, fluff and more fluff," she said, adding that she was tired of the bishop's alleged "lies."

"He turns me off completely," said Hagmeyer, a parishioner at St. Killian's for 54 years. "I don't trust the man."

Beyond the faithful in the pews, at least one priest who has been critical of Murphy in the past said his latest move left him more optimistic.

The Rev. Gerald Twomey of St. Anne's in Brentwood was the first in the diocese to put his name on a recent letter signed by 52 priests who criticized Murphy's leadership. Twomey said Wednesday that the bishop's letter is "certainly a step in the right direction. I would say the emphasis on the victims is well-placed and the expressed desire to get support groups in conformity with the Dallas charter is long overdue."

Twomey, who heads one of the largest parishes in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, added: "It's the best statement he's made so far. I think we still have a long way to go."

The responses come a day after Murphy's release of an 11-page letter that the diocese is mailing out to 414,000 Catholic homes on Long Island. In it, the leader of Long Island Catholics issues his most extensive apology yet for the sexual abuse some priests and religious brothers inflicted on minors since the founding of the diocese in 1957.

Murphy discloses in the letter that 132 persons said they were abused by 66 priests and brothers. The numbers are part of a report the diocese is submitting as part of a nationwide survey the United States Conference of Bishops is conducting. The full report is due out Feb. 27.

Offering profuse apologies, Murphy states in the letter that " ... I will go to my grave with the knowledge that I can never make up or restore to the victims the innocence lost and suffering experienced day in and day out by those who were victimized as well as their families."

Besides the problems here, Murphy also has come under fire for his alleged role in the church sex abuse scandal in Boston, where he held the No. 2 post under Cardinal Bernard Law. Murphy's supporters contend he did nothing wrong in Boston and that the media is blowing his supposed role out of proportion.

Murphy found more supporters Wednesday at Our Lady of Loretto in Hempstead, where the mood was one of accepting his apology, forgiving him and moving on. Speaking in Spanish, Angel and Enia Negron of Uniondale said they were in no position to judge the bishop. "We are all sinners and we must ask for forgiveness," said Enia Negron, 46, a native of the Dominican Republic. Nearby, Wilda Dierre, 35, a Hempstead resident who emigrated from Haiti, said, "I think he's doing a great job."

Across the street from the church in the parish social ministries basement office, coordinator Rosemary Viola echoed their sentiments as she kept busy handing out food and clothing to the needy. "If Jesus could forgive the people who killed him, we can certainly forgive" Murphy, she said. "As a Catholic, I trust our leader. He's doing the best he can."

But elsewhere, the mood was not so forgiving. Tom O'Sullivan, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Massapequa Park for the past 45 years, said Murphy "doesn't realize how angry people are. And until this anger is dissipated, the healing can't begin. It's going to take some time to get the anger out."

He said one thing Murphy could have done was to allow the Voice of the Faithful to meet on church property the way many bishops such as Cardinal Edward Egan of the Archdiocese of New York have done. The nationwide group of Roman Catholics -- Hagmeyer is a leader in Farmingdale -- is demanding more accountability from the church hierarchy and a greater role for lay people.

Murphy says he will not allow the group to meet on church property because the group has not fully explained its stance on certain church issues.

"How come Cardinal Egan can do it and he can't?" O'Sullivan said. "I attended two of their meetings and I didn't find any radicals there. They were members of the Holy Name Society. They were extraordinary ministers."