Politics and the pastor William Murphy


January 29, 2017

By Bob Keeler

As a priest, in private moments with the ill or the grieving, Bishop William F. Murphy has been admirably pastoral and compassionate.

As a bishop, he’s too often been autocratic, with a knack for committing unforced errors, marring his 15-plus years leading the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

Unfortunately, it was not Murphy the gentle pastor, but Murphy the high-handed, controversial master, who shaped his image.

Less than a week after his installation in 2001, terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000. In that tragic time, Murphy was at his best, reaching out quietly to comfort bereaved families.

Then, at the start of 2002, The Boston Globe began its Pulitzer Prize-winning series about sexual abuse by priests and negligence by bishops in the Archdiocese of Boston, where Murphy had been Cardinal Bernard Law’s top aide. Though no one has accused Murphy of a crime, that series started a cascade of image-staining news.

The headlines are familiar: his testimony before a Massachusetts grand jury, the same week that a Suffolk County grand jury issued a scathing report about sexual abuse here before Murphy arrived; his refusal to let Voice of the Faithful, a lay group arising from the crisis, meet on church property; his decision to commandeer a space that was to have ho-used six nuns; his taste for pricey appliances and a wine cooler that led then-Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin to brand him “Mansion Murphy.”

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