High-ranking administrator leaves Buffalo Diocese post, tells colleagues she was fired

Buffalo News [Buffalo NY]

May 2, 2023

By Jay Tokasz

One of the top advisers to Buffalo Diocese Bishop Michael W. Fisher has stepped down from her post as diocese chancellor in a move that she described in an email as a firing.

Fisher notified clergy across the diocese last week saying that Sister Regina Murphy “has completed her long and distinguished tenure with the diocese.”

The bishop did not otherwise describe the circumstances around Murphy’s departure.

Joseph Martone, diocese spokesman, responded to a reporter’s inquiry about Murphy with a written statement that echoed Fisher’s memo to clergy. Martone declined to comment beyond the statement.

Murphy used the word “terminated” in explaining to department heads in the Catholic Center that she was leaving, according to two sources who read her email. She did not respond to a voice message and an email from The News seeking comment.

Murphy, who worked under eight diocese top administrators, was appointed chancellor in 2018. She was the first woman and first nonpriest to hold the high-ranking post, which involves overseeing diocese correspondence and archives and acting on behalf of the bishop in official communications with clergy and parishes.

Prior to being chancellor, Murphy served for 27 years as diocesan director of research and planning. She played a central role in steering the diocese’s “Journey in Faith & Grace,” a massive and controversial restructuring process that was launched in 2005 and ultimately resulted over several years in the closure of more than 70 worship sites across eight counties, a reduction in the number of parishes from 265 to 169 and the shuttering of 25 elementary schools.

In that capacity, she spent much of her time analyzing demographics and other data on Catholics in Western New York, where the practice of the faith has fallen off dramatically over the past few decades, as it has in other Northeastern cities that were once strongholds of Catholicism.

Former Bishop Richard J. Malone appointed Murphy as interim chancellor in 2018, shortly after the diocese’s cover-up of child-molesting priests from decades earlier started getting exposed by local news outlets.

Murphy is part of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. She was a high school teacher and administrator prior to starting work at the Catholic Center in 1988 as associate director of research and planning in the administration of Bishop Edward D. Head.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI recognized Murphy with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross, a papal distinction of honor.

In his email, Fisher said he was “immensely grateful” to Murphy for her dedicated service and “always-reliable counsel.”

Melissa Potzer, who was named vice chancellor in 2022, will serve as “primary point person” on matters related to the chancellor’s responsibilities until Murphy’s successor is named, said Fisher. Murphy’s research and planning and archive responsibilities will be handled by a collaboration of other administrators, Fisher added.

Fisher has been under pressure from abuse victims and their advocates to replace chancery officials connected with past bishops accused of covering for abusive priests, including Malone, who resigned in 2019 amid a firestorm of criticism over his handling of molestation claims.

It’s unclear, however, if that had anything to do with the departure of Murphy, who was responsible for maintaining and organizing priest personnel files and was instrumental in developing a diocese list of clergy accused of abuse.