Bishop's Fundraiser Lags As Scandal Scars Are Slow to Heal

WNBC [Long Island NY]
June 30, 2003

ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. -- In a sign that the priest sex abuse scandal has yet to wane, the primary fund-raising drive for Long Island's Catholic charities and religious education has collected less than two-thirds of its $15 million goal, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre said Monday.

Joanne Novarro said the annual bishop's appeal had raised $9.3 million as of June 1, "quite a bit below" the goal set by Bishop William Murphy, spiritual leader of Long Island's 1.5 million Catholics.

The bishop's appeal, which began in January, is now in what Novarro called the "clean-up stage." The 2002 bishop's appeal raised $13.3 million.

"There's no denying that some of this has to do with people's anger over what's happened over the last year and a half," Novarro said. "But you also have to remember that the economy has been absolutely rotten."

Long Island was among several focal points of the sex abuse scandals that erupted around the country over the last 18 months. Last winter, a Suffolk County grand jury alleged the diocese repeatedly protected nearly two dozen priests accused of sexual abuse over several decades by transferring them to other parishes.

The grand jury found that altar boys and cheerleaders were sexually abused, and that some youths were given alcohol and shown sexual videotapes in rectory bedrooms. It was unable to file indictments against the diocese because a five-year statute of limitations had expired.

Murphy, who came to Long Island in the fall of 2001, has promised to refer any new allegations of sex abuse to law enforcement. He also held three "listening sessions" with parishioners last week at locations around Long Island. The sessions were closed to the news media, but Newsday interviewed participants afterward.

At each session, the newspaper reported, parishioners criticized Murphy for an expensive renovation of his residence and admonished him for not being more open in his handling of the sex abuse scandal. A few offered praise.

"I'd say the people were overwhelmingly polite," Novarro said of the sessions. She said the bishop promised to listen, pray and reflect, then respond in a "timely fashion."

Although Novarro declined to be specific, she said Murphy's response to parishioners' comments was expected "in weeks, because this is something he doesn't want to keep waiting."

Murphy remains at odds with a group of Catholics who organized a Long Island chapter of Voice of the Faithful -- a grassroots national organization that was created last year in the wake of the priest sex abuse scandals. The bishop has refused to allow the local chapter to meet on church property, saying they do not represent the views of all Catholics.

About 50 members of the group held a protest outside St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre on Sunday. The group said it plans to hold monthly vigils outside the cathedral until their requests to meet on church grounds are met.

Murphy also was linked to the priest abuse scandal in Boston, where he served as an aide to Cardinal Bernard Law before coming to Long Island. Law was forced to resign last year and Murphy was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury examining the Massachusetts scandals.


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