April 28, 2002

Dear sisters and Brothers in Christ:

The recent focus in our Diocese and around the country of instances of sexual abuse of minors by some priests has revealed the depth and extent of their betrayal of young people, their brother priests and the Church on the part of a few who have compromised their solemn commitment to a life of chaste celibate love. This is an abomination that cries out to heaven for redress, as it is a wound on the Body of Christ, which you and I must seek to heal. As your bishop I carry a particular responsibility for this. I beg the forgiveness of any and all who have been affected by these actions and I invite you to join me in prayer of reparation for the wrongs of the past.

As a new bishop here, I acted shortly after my arrival on the few outstanding cases we had. Then I reviewed our diocesan personnel files. My collaborators and I acted on any allegations we found therein. The Diocese then took the first initiative of contacting the District Attorneys, sharing the information we had and offering full cooperation with the legal authorities, something we have been doing and will continue to do in the future.

While that was going on, I asked some experts to review our procedures. For more than ten years my predecessors have carefully followed these procedures. Like all human instruments, they can be improved. My collaborators and I are engaged in a process to re-write those procedures in light of suggestions and comments from experts and many others who have written or spoken to me. I am grateful to them all. At this time I wish to share with you some of the changes that we have already instituted in the Diocese as a result of these on-going conversations.

First, the Pastoral Intervention Team has been expanded and diversified to include a priest, a social worker and an independent expert in law enforcement. The priest and the social worker will deal with the complainants and with the priest under allegation. The law enforcement expert will see to it that the information is brought immediately to the legal authorities. The Diocese will cooperate with the legal authorities at all times through its own diocesan counsel.

Second, the Review Board has been expanded and revised. It will now consist of two psychiatrists, one not Catholic; two social workers, one not Catholic; a priest; some parents and two law enforcement officers. They will review the whole process and the psychiatric evaluation and make their recommendations to me.

Third, in the past it was thought a priest could be given "restricted ministry" away from minors and children. That is wrong. If a priest cannot minister to children and minors, he cannot have any pastoral ministry in this diocese. Nor will I ever give permission for him to minister in any other diocese. No priest will be returned to pastoral ministry unless he is proven innocent of any charges, received a psychiatric assessment that indicates no negative pathology and been approved by the Review Board. Only then will I determine whether or not he can be returned to pastoral ministry.

There is no way that we can guarantee that such acts will never occur. The inexcusable crime of sexual abuse against minors is sadly a phenomenon of our society. As I have said often, even one is one too many. The commitment of the Church of Rockville Centre is firmly and irrevocably to the protection of children and minors, to cooperate with legal authorities, to effective action to isolate the culpable priest from causing further harm and to minister to all those who have been adversely affected.

We are dealing ultimately with the mystery of iniquity, the reality of sin and human frailty. However, I want to assure you that the Diocese will continue to do all in its power to respond against the horror, the anguish, the suffering that these heinous acts have caused. The call to all of us who are priests and to all of us who make up the Body of Christ is to be faithful and to be holy, faithful to the solemn promises of our own lives and holy with the holiness that comes from a chaste life lived in the Lord for the sake of His Church.

Please pray for me as I do for you that we might together be the Holy Church of Jesus Christ giving witness by our lives to his love for humankind.

Yours faithfully in Christ,

Most Rev. William F. Murphy
Bishop of Rockville Centre



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