Bishop's Ouster Sought Over Role in Sex Abuse Scandal

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - A Catholic bishop in Long Island, N.Y., who once served as the top deputy to former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, is under fire from a lay organization.

Voice of the Faithful of Long Island, a group that seeks church reform in light of recent clergy abuse scandals, is demanding Bishop William Murphy's resignation, claiming that his service under Law from 1993 to 2001 has tainted his moral authority.

But the national Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has rushed to the bishop's defense, maintaining his innocence and characterizing the Voice of the Faithful's efforts as "despicable" and a "demagogic attempt to silence" Murphy.

Voice of the Faithful and groups comprised of clergy abuse victims are upset over Murphy's past affiliation with Law, who resigned his post last December, and over Murphy's alleged lack of concern about clergy abuse of children.

"All of the bishops, including Bishop Murphy, who worked in Boston at the time that the sex abuse scandals were unfolding are tainted by that," explained Patricia Zirkel, co-chair of the executive board for Voice of the Faithful of Long Island. "There is a cloud over the American Catholic church. They've lost the high ground of moral leadership, and we believe that is in the best interests of the American church that they all step aside, including Bishop Murphy."

Mark Serrano, regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, believes that Murphy is not morally fit to serve as bishop because of his alleged complicity.

"All of Cardinal Law's lieutenants played a significant role all those years in allowing further damage to occur to those children," Serrano said. "And the documents demonstrate that."

Those documents include a grand jury report recently released by Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly on the Boston Archdiocese's alleged cover-up of sexual abuse. The report cleared Murphy of criminal wrongdoing but criticized his attitude in responding to claims of child abuse.

The report stated that "with only one exception, Bishop Murphy did not report to law enforcement any of the numerous allegations of clergy sexual abuse he reviewed" and "continued to place a higher priority on preventing scandal and providing support to alleged abusers than on protecting children from sexual abuse."

The report also noted: "Any claim by the Cardinal of the Archdiocese's senior managers that they did not know about the abuse suffered by, or the continuing threat to, children in the Archdiocese is simply not credible."

Murphy's diocese issued a statement acknowledging that he had cooperated with the Massachusetts investigation but argued that his record since moving to Long Island was more relevant. The statement listed a number of anti-abuse initiatives undertaken by the diocese since Murphy moved to the Rockville Centre Diocese in 2001.

"Bishop Murphy is determined that issues raised in the Massachusetts Grand Jury report never be repeated under his jurisdiction," the statement said. "He remains committed to the people of the Diocese of Rockville Centre to doing everything in his power to ensure protection of the children in the Diocese."

The Catholic League, a national civil rights organization, has launched a petition drive in support of Murphy and is resolved to "settle the issue of who really speaks for Long Island Catholics," according to the group's president, William Donohue.

The Massachusetts report, Donohue stated, "had nothing incriminating to say about [Murphy]," and Donohue noted that if the bishop were guilty, his organization would not be defending him.

"It is tempting for activist organizations that are angry at the Church to steamroll their way to justice. But justice demands that innocent people not be run over. That is what is happening to Bishop Murphy. Just because he served in Boston, he is considered, ipso facto, guilty. This represents a collapse of discernment that is despicable," said Donohue.

Voices of the Faithful leader Zirkel contends that regardless of whether the bishop engaged in any criminal activity, his ability to provide moral leadership has been ruined.

"I don't see how you can look at the facts from Boston and say that Bishop Murphy is an adequate moral leader," said Zirkel. "And he should be more than adequate - he should be outstanding," she added.

Serrano believes that the Long Island parishioners' rebellion against Murphy is an encouraging sign.

"I think it's very significant that faithful Catholics would begin calling for resignations like that from Bishop Murphy," Serrano explained. "We as Catholics were raised to show respect and deference to the hierarchy. So it takes a rather egregious case for Catholics to have the strength and courage to call for one of their own leaders to step down."

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