Bishop Vows Better Communication

By Erin Texeira
Newsday [Long Island NY]
February 19, 2004

In a striking move that could herald a shift in diocesan policy toward the Voice of the Faithful, Bishop William Murphy will form a committee to iron out his differences with the controversial parishioners' group, according to a letter issued Wednesday by priests who met with the Catholic leader.

Murphy also vowed to improve communication between himself and parishioners by establishing a diocesan pastoral council, the priests wrote.

Also in Wednesday 's letter, the priests wrote that Murphy will engage a professional consultant to re-examine the Presbyteral Senate, an advisory body of local priests, and Deaneries, clusters of parishes that meet to collaborate on various issues in their region, to improve the way they work.

Lastly, the priests said Murphy directed the Diocesan Synod, a longterm body set up to report on diocesan shifts by 2007, to identify issues that can be addressed now and take action on them.

"These are all very hopeful signs that he's looking to revitalize existing structures and create other structures to be more pastorally responsive," said the Rev. Gerald Twomey, co-pastor of St. Anne's Church in Brentwood.

A spokesman from the diocese did not respond to requests for comment.

The letter did not address another issue that has resonated deeply with some priests and the faithful -- Murphy's elaborate and pricey renovation of his apartment.

The letter comes in response to an unprecedented meeting between Murphy and about 190 priests last month to air priests' grievances and worries in the wake of the priest sex abuse scandal and widespread apathy among parishioners. That meeting was called after 52 priests signed a letter to Murphy last November telling of the "distressing" sense of alienation in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

Dan Bartley, co-director of the Long Island chapter of the Voice of the Faithful, declined to comment on Murphy's proposal. He said only, "We have not received any notification from the bishop or his representatives about this change or the process he has in mind or the conditions he may impose. Until then we are unable to comment."

Bartley's group, which was formed in response to the scandal involving priests' sexual abuse of children and has called for changes in church management, was banned from meeting on church property in 2002.

That the group might eventually be approved by Murphy and be allowed to meet on church property "has not been ruled out," said Msgr. Jim McNamara, who was Murphy's representative in the group of five priests who penned the letter. "That's down the road."

According to the letter, Murphy did not respond to calls from some in the diocese to move from his residence, which he spent $1.1 million renovating -- an issue discussed at length at last month's meeting.

Citing that issue, the Rev. William Brisotti of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal in Wyandanch said, "There are still questions that people have connected to that which still should be responded to. It will be a question of accountability." But, he added, "The major issue is communication and that will open up an environment in which those kinds of decisions involving accountability will not happen. Hopefully."