Voice of Faithful Donation Rejected

By Rita Ciolli
Newsday [Long Island NY]
Downloaded May 5, 2003

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rockville Centre has rejected $750 in donations from the Long Island Voice of the Faithful. The action comes days after the grassroots group sent Bishop William Murphy a letter telling the leader of Long Island Catholics he is not capable of healing a diocese wounded by revelations that priests sexually abused children.

Voice of the Faithful sent checks for $250 each to Regina Residence in East Merrick, which serves girls ages 11 to 18 who have a "crisis pregnancy" or are new mothers; Christopher Residence in Valley Stream; and Newman Residence in Manhasset for adults with developmental difficulties.

"Catholic Charities is an integral part of the work of the Church in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and it is important to maintain a sense of unity of mission," the social services agency said in a written statement to Newsday. "To that end we do not believe it would be appropriate for Catholic Charities or its programs to accept donations from the organization Voice of the Faithful."

Responding to the rejection, Dan Bartley, co-chair of the lay group that seeks a greater role in church governance, said, "I think it is wrong to exercise authority at the expense of the poor. How unfortunate." He said the group will decide how to move forward at its May 8 general meeting.

The three individual Catholic Charities programs, which do not have separate development offices, sent the checks to the organization's headquarters in Hicksville. After an inquiry earlier this week by Newsday, a spokesman for the social services agency said the matter "was on the bishop's desk" for review.

Joanne Novarro, a spokeswoman for the diocese said in an e-mail response Friday that "Catholic Charities made the decision to return the VOTF checks, and by doing so they are bearing witness to the unity of the Church on Long Island."

When asked whether Murphy had any role in influencing Catholic Charities' decision to reject the local VOTF money, Paul Engelhart, the organization's chief program officer, said he could not comment beyond the written statement.

However, Our Lady of Providence School in Central Islip, a regional diocesan elementary school, already accepted a $250 check and sent a thank-you letter to VOTF. The principals of the school were not available for comment on the donation.

The four checks to diocesan institutions are among 13 donations totalling $3,250 from VOTF's Voice of Compassion Fund since the beginning of the year. It was established to contribute to local charities that may suffer as result of the decline in the Bishop's Annual Appeal, the diocese's main fund-raising effort. As of April, the faltering appeal had only 56 percent of the pledges necessary to meet its 2003 goal of $15 million.

While Murphy has met with members of the VOTF and even invited its leadership to lunch, the relationship has been deteriorating in recent weeks, especially over his refusal to allow the group to meet on diocesan property.

Meanwhile, last week, Bishop Thomas Daily, head of the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn, lifted its ban against VOTF meetings. Novarro said Murphy is "reviewing" material on the subject sent to him by Daily.


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