LI Faithful Sound off
Angry Catholics Seek Answers in Church Sex Scandal

By Rita Ciolli and Tom Demoretcky
Newsday, Inc. [Long Island NY]
February 14, 2003

The more than 800 persons who attended the Long Island Voice of the Faithful meeting in North Babylon last night were looking for answers. Most did not sound satisfied with Bishop William Murphy's apology for the sex scandal.

The mood was one of controlled anger over the sexual abuse of children by priests and a church hierarchy that many believe covered it up and let it continue. Some asked for explanations. One, a nun, even suggested the bishop may have to resign.

Sheila Peiffer, a co-director for the group, a grassroots organization seeking more lay involvement in church governance, set the tone. "This scandal is not about one bishop, one diocese, one lawyer, one priest or one case," she said. "This is about a system that failed us. This system must be challenged."

Dan Bartley, the other co-director, said, "We are not about pointing fingers and placing blame. We are about finding solutions."

At one point, a man who identified himself as a radio reporter went to the microphone and called for the bishop's resignation. It drew loud applause. Peiffer told the group they should distinguish between individual opinions and the opinion of the group. She said this was not the opinion of Voice of the Faithful.

John Mulvey of the group's finance committee suggested that action be turned toward raising money for the Voice of Compassion, the group's alternative to the bishop's appeal for charity causes.

The meeting, which was held at North Babylon High School, a public school, because Murphy has refused to let the group use church property, began with the singing of a hymn, "Christ Be Our Light," and an opening prayer.

About 100 persons took applications, and many told a reporter they were looking for more answers.

Regina Burns, of St. John the Baptist parish in Wading River, took an application. "I have been angry before about what happened, but after this week, I'm fuming," she said, referring to the Suffolk County grand jury report released Monday accusing the diocese of covering up abuse to protect priests at the expense of children. Still, she added she was there for positive reasons. "Sometimes, the most horrible things bring about the most shining results."

Another person new to the meetings, Lorraine Hissiger, of St. Brigid's parish in Westbury, explained why she came. "We've got to do something," she said in an interview. "No use complaining about things if you don't take any steps to remedy them." She added that the bishop's response to the scandal left her "disheartened." She said that after reading the bishop's statement, she felt that, "We have no voice, whatever the bishop says."

Sister Maureen Donohoe, of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Nesconset, said she had "mixed emotions" about the bishop's response.

Murphy apologized Wednesday for what had happened the diocese and said he has taken steps to protect children from further abuse.

"I guess I am grateful that he was able to finally say he is sorry," the nun said. "I wished it had been sooner. I think there is still more that he needs to do. And that may be to give us his resignation. That would be part of the healing process."

Catherine Deenihan, of St. John of God parish in Central Islip, added, "It took him a year to say 'I'm sorry.' He finally got those words out because all of the stuff about him in Boston is coming out. It took Lizzie Grubman a year to say I'm sorry, too."

At least one participant at the meeting felt the criticisms were misguided. Rachel Morgan, of Sts. Philip and James parish in St. James, said in an interview she believes the diocese is "taking care of the problem" and said, "Why are these people here. ... . This is just a power grab."

The turnout contrasted with the group's first meeting on a sweltering night last August when 100 Long Island Catholics met in the basement of St. Sylvester's Church in Medford. Yet, the dominant emotions remained the same: anger and redemptive hope that a strong church could emerge from this crisis.

After that first meeting, Murphy, issued an edict forbidding pastors from allowing the group to use church property. Murphy sees the group as a threat to the unity of the church and has said the Long Island faithful should use their parish councils to air their complaints. He is one of about 10 bishops who have issued such a ban, while others allow such meetings.

Voice of the Faithful, which began in Boston a year ago, says it has has more than 25,000 members in 100 chapters including in Ireland and Australia. Its stated mission is to support abuse survivors and priests of integrity and bring changes to the church to ensure that the abuse will never happen again.


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