Rift Widens between Diocese, Long Island Catholic Group
Voice of the Faithful Began after Priest Sex Scandals

Associated Press, carried in Chicago Tribune [Long Island NY]
January 21, 2003

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. - A group that organized last year in response to the priest sex scandals has decided not to endorse the Long Island diocese's $15 million fund-raising appeal.

The Long Island Voice of the Faithful had offered to help the Rockville Centre diocese with the fund-raising effort - on the condition that church leaders open their books.

But last week the proposal was rejected as unnecessary by Bishop William Murphy, the spiritual leader of Long Island's 1.5 million Roman Catholics.

The exchange highlights a rift between the diocese and the Voice of the Faithful, which was formed last year in Boston and claims more than 1,000 members who are otherwise active in Long Island's 134 parishes.

The divide, triggered by the sex scandal, has grown to include fund-raising, finances and even the group's meeting place - and comes at a time when churches are under growing scrutiny to make their finances public.

There are no allegations the Rockville Centre diocese has paid off victims to keep silent about abuse, but critics nationwide say limits on financial disclosure have allowed dioceses elsewhere to make such payments.

The Voice of the Faithful wrote to Murphy last month seeking a meeting "to discuss the meaning of financial openness and to agree upon a procedure for how this can be accomplished. We have financial experts ready, willing and able to assist you and your experts in this endeavor."

Monsignor Robert J. Brennan, writing on behalf of Murphy, responded that the fund-raising appeal "will function this year as in prior years, through the parish committees who are responsible to the pastor." He noted the Diocesan Finance Council is composed of five lay people and one religious appointee.

"We cannot let the difficulties of the past paralyze our life together this year and in the years to come, especially when we have all worked to correct our past deficiencies," Brennan wrote.

Dan Bartley, co-director of the Long Island Voice of the Faithful, said that while the response "appears to fall short of the full financial openness ... hopefully this represents a first step toward moving in that direction." He added that until more concrete steps are taken toward financial openness "we will reserve our endorsement of this year's appeal."

The appeal, which last year brought in $14.7 million, is used to fund various diocesan functions, including religious education, Catholic Charities, and pastoral ministries, said diocesan spokeswoman Joanne Novarro. The fund-raising goal this year is $15 million.

"Economic times are a little harder and the bishop recognizes that people may not have as much to give," Novarro said. "But the work of the diocese has to go on."


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