Letter’s Demands May Jeopardize Talks
Church Calls for Voice of the Faithful to Back Bishop, Further Straining Relationship between Two Sides

By Rita Ciolli
Newsday [Long Island NY]
September 13, 2004

Negotiations between Long Island Voice of the Faithful and the Diocese of Rockville Centre will come to a halt unless the group rescinds its call for Bishop William Murphy's resignation and makes a public statement of support for him "as the spiritual shepherd of the Church on Long Island," according to a letter sent by the bishop's representatives to the lay Catholic group.

The strongly worded letter, which VOTF termed an "ultimatum," quickly became yet another source of dispute between the two sides, highlighting the frayed relationship between supporters of the bishop and the grassroots group, which wants more accountability from the church hierarchy.

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for Murphy, said VOTF's disclosure of the diocese's negotiating position "just increases the rhetoric and makes it increasingly difficult to remain committed to reconciliation."

Dolan said the discussions need to remain confidential to "foster free thinking."

The demands of Murphy's liaison team were disclosed by VOTF last week when the group's leadership mailed a survey to its 2,200 members on how to respond.

In the letter dated July 30, but not e-mailed to VOTF leaders until Aug. 26, the liaison team wrote before there can be "any realistic expectation of productive dialogue" VOTF must meet three conditions. VOTF must seek to "repair the damage caused by your attacks on the Bishop ... " by issuing a statement of support. VOTF must also "dismantle" its two financial programs which were designed as an alternative to church fund-raising.

Dan Bartley, the group's co-director, said the requests by the bishop's team effectively cuts off any discussion.

"We have always been in favor of an open exchange of ideas. By insisting on preconditions, Bishop Murphy may have created a major barrier for such dialogue to take place," he said. Bartley said the VOTF board made it "very clear from the beginning that we are an open organization and would keep our members informed about the discussions."

In July 2003, VOTF called for Murphy's resignation. The group took the action after the release of a report by the Massachusetts attorney general about sexual abuse of minors by priests, which was highly critical of Murphy, who was second-in-command in the Boston Archdiocese from 1993 to 2001.

The adversarial relationship continued until Murphy was pressured by his priests to seek peace with VOTF, whose membership includes many parish leaders. In an extraordinary January meeting with 200 priests of the diocese, Murphy was repeatedly advised by his pastors to reconsider his ban. A month later, he appointed a liaison committee which had two meetings with VOTF leaders before the discussions stalled over the resignation issue.

The breakdown in the dialogue by the two sides comes as the local chapter of Voice of the Ordained held its first public event last night at St. Anne's Church in Brentwood. VOTO is an organization of priests trying to deal with the consequences of the sexual abuse problem. Guest lecturer, the Rev. Donald Cozzens, a theologian and author, said "VOTO and VOTF "give me great, great hope" that the church can move past the feudal system that is strangling its mission.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.