LI Poll: Scandal Hurts View of Church

By Joseph Mallia
March 23, 2003

Wendy Mayo was baptized as an infant into the Catholic faith, left the church as a disillusioned teenager, and then, as a parent, returned -- though with misgivings about the role of some church leaders in protecting sexually abusive priests.

"Do I hold church leaders on a pedestal? Never. Even after all that's happened, they haven't changed," Mayo said. "This scandal might be what breaks the church. Unless they change."

Mayo, 36, an Inwood homemaker, was one of about 500 Long Islanders who took part in a recent Newsday poll on the impact of the priest sexual misconduct scandal that has shaken the church in recent years. Mayo and several other respondents agreed to speak this week about their views.

In the poll, 52 percent said they viewed the church leadership less favorably as a result of its response to the scandal; 4 percent viewed it more favorably; and 37 percent said their opinions were unchanged.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said the Catholic church is not doing enough to address the problem of sexual abuse by priests, while 27 percent said the church was taking the right course of action, and 3 percent said the church was "going too far."

The poll also asked about Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese.

Cindy Steele, 71, of Westbury, a retired office manager, said Murphy and other leaders protected child molesters at the expense of their victims.

"It was a cover-up. They just switched them to different parishes. It's horrible," said Steele, a former Catholic. "They're still trying to cover it up, and making it seem like everything's fine when it's not."

In the telephone poll, conducted by Blum & Weprin Associates of Manhattan between Feb. 27 and March 2, half the respondents were Catholic, and one-fourth Protestant. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

There was little difference in the way Catholics and Protestants responded to the poll, except when asked about Murphy. While 16 percent of Catholics viewed the bishop favorably, only 5 percent of Protestants did so.

Overall, 10 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of Murphy, while 40 percent viewed him unfavorably and 49 percent were unsure or declined to answer.

Murphy, 62, became the bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in September 2001. From 1993-2001, he was a top church official in Boston, where he returned last month to testify under subpoena before a criminal grand jury investigating the priest scandal. Murphy did not respond to requests for comment on the poll.

Women were harsher than men in their opinions of Murphy, with only 7 percent seeing him favorably compared with 13 percent of men.

Marie Maniscalco, 21, of Massapequa Park, was one of those who favor the bishop, and the church leadership. "I think he's, number one, a good Christian. He's not perfect. Along the way he may stumble, but he'll find his way," Maniscalco said. "The church is doing the right thing. They're cleaning house."

Murphy has apologized for incidents of sexual abuse by Long Island priests, and said he has taken steps to protect children from further abuse. He also came under fire in the past year for expensive renovations to a new bishop's residence, and for preventing Voice of the Faithful, a grassroots group seeking a greater voice in church matters, from meeting on church property.

Melvin Serrano, 32, of Farmingdale, said he expects further deception from church leaders. "They can't be trusted. They're willing to cover their own tracks and the tracks of the priests," Serrano said. "And what they're doing now is too little, too late."

Mayo is raising her children as Catholics, even though she says Murphy and other church leaders have not done enough to restore her trust in the clergy. "I'm a practicing Catholic. I teach religion. My children receive communion," Mayo said. "But I don't see a good parent leaving their children alone with a priest."


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