Hoping to Heal
Murphy Says Mass at Hands' Former Parish

By Joseph Mallia
March 9, 2003

Moments after he celebrated Mass at a Northport church last night, Bishop William Murphy reflected on whether his homily, and his presence at St. Philip Neri, could help its parishioners heal after the turmoil of the past two years.

"The Lord heals hearts. All I can be is a very simple instrument, I hope, of God's healing for everyone," Murphy said in a brief interview. "I hope every Mass heals. Every Mass is infinitely valuableand so for us to be here today was just a wonderful thing."

One of the Northport church's former priests, Rev. Michael Hands, was arrested in 2001. He was sentenced last week to two years in jail for sexually molesting a teenage boy. He later became a key witness before a Suffolk grand jury that issued a scathing report on sexual abuse by Rockville Centre diocese priests.

Murphy said he was at the church because he has pledged to visit all the parishes in his diocese, which includes all of Long Island. He said he did not visit because one of its past priests was Hands.

"That never went into my thinking," Murphy said. He said he had instructed an assistant to "find me three parishes I haven't been to" and St. Philip Neri was one of them.

Murphy's homily was about Noah building his ark before the great flood, and Jesus facing 40 days of trials. "We also find ourselves, like Jesus in the wilderness, where we as a church are being tested as Jesus was tested for 40 days," the bishop said. "He is tested there as are we. This testing was real. Our testing is no less real."

Afterward, about 200 parishioners waited in line to exchange pleasantries. One mother spoke of the chance that her infant son might grow up to become a priest. Murphy rejoined: "Priest yes. Bishop no. There's no fun in that job."

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.