Hear Their Voices
NY Times [Long Island NY]
September 19, 2004
After decades of sexual crimes by priests erupted in the ghastly scandal of the last three years, the Roman Catholic Church has taken some decisive steps to repair the damage. Abusers have been removed, victims compensated and church assets sold. A few badly scarred dioceses have received new leaders chosen for their sincerity, humility and willingness to be tough on bad priests and gentle with victims and their families.
Long Island hasn't been so lucky. Its leader is Bishop William F. Murphy, who arrived in the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 2001 after spending years as No. 2 in Boston to Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in disgrace in 2002. Bishop Murphy stoutly denies ever having shielded abusive priests, and obviously had no role in the abuses that occurred in his current diocese, which by some accounts acted as badly as any other. But he clearly has work to do to heal the morale of parishioners and priests and to restore the shattered psyches of victims.
It doesn't seem to be working. Relations between the bishop and an array of accusers appear to have deteriorated under a dismal but familiar cloud of legal hardball and mutual hostility. The diocese, for example, which is facing more than 40 sexual-abuse lawsuits in state court, contends that nearly all of them are barred by the statute of limitations, which requires that a juvenile plaintiff file suit before turning 21. The diocese intends to have those cases thrown out, despite strong evidence that many victims of sexual abuse do not come forward until their 30's.
Meanwhile, the diocese's efforts to reach out to victims have been dismissed as public relations ploys. Negotiations with a reform-minded organization of lay Catholics called Voice of the Faithful collapsed after the diocese insisted on multiple preconditions for a "productive dialogue." Among other things, the diocese said that before any meeting could occur, the group must issue a public statement supporting Bishop Murphy as "the spiritual shepherd of the Church on Long Island" and dismantle two fund-raising operations set up as alternatives to the church's own collection efforts. In other words, line up on our side and then we can talk about differences.
Advocacy groups, almost by definition, can be prickly and noisy. Bishop Murphy's critics are not, however, political gadflies but victims of crimes and responsible members of the church. They deserve to be treated with compassion and respect, not with imperiousness and defensiveness.
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