In response to the letter reproduced below, Bishop Murphy met with approximately 200 priests of the diocese on January 19, 2004.
October 1, 2003
Most Rev. William Francis Murphy
Dear Bishop Murphy:
We write to you out of a great love for the Church, which we strive to serve faithfully each day. We write out of a great love for our local Church, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and out of fraternal concern for you, our brother priest and bishop.
In our own personal experience we have perceived a general malaise and even an abiding anger within our beloved diocese. There are very many in the diocese, clergy and laity, who sense this same atmosphere. We perceive a fairly widespread dissatisfaction with the way you have related to some clergy and laity and we sense a certain lack of confidence in your pastoral leadership in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. We find the situation distressing. People feel hurt by events in the Church and in our diocese. The response of the faithful to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal this year is powerful evidence of this hurt. We are sure as well that you have experienced pain by things that have been said and published about you. There is open and public conflict that remains unresolved and it is the experience of many that life goes on under a dark cloud. What others and we experience is not an acceptable situation.
We recognize that there are certain individuals and groups that do not share this same sense of alienation and do not share the criticisms that have been so publicly aired. There are those who have expressed strong support of you and your ministry in the diocese. Despite that, the situation described in the preceding paragraph is the reality that we wish to address.
We believe that your brother priests may have a special role to play in creating a more mutually respectful and dialogical climate which will help the diocese move forward in the task given us by Jesus to live and proclaim the Gospel. We believe that it may actually be possible for us as a group to be reconcilers and to make concrete the reality that together we form a community of forgiven forgivers.
We are suggesting to you a process that begins with the most open dialogue possible between you and all the priests of the diocese. This dialogue would be realized in a meeting between you and all the priests interested in taking part. This meeting would be absolutely private and certainly would exclude any media-related persons. During the first part of this meeting you would be able to speak to the priests indicating how you see your first two years in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, especially in your relations with the priests of the diocese, but also with laity. We would like you to address any aspect of diocesan life that you consider urgent and important and that you think may contribute to the uneasiness that many feel. During the second part of the meeting priests of the diocese would be free to address you and/or the assembly of priests present regarding the issues that they may deem urgent or important, especially regarding your relationship with the priests of the diocese. We ask that you would not only listen to what priests have to say. We hope that you would also respond to this input.
Such a gathering will be difficult to manage. For that reason a professional facilitator would be important. We suggest further that such a meeting be held for an extended time in the afternoon to enable as many priests as possible to participate. These and all aspects of such a meeting would be discussed and agreed on beforehand. We recognize that such a meeting would be quite challenging for all of us, We believe that the current situation justifies the suggestion as a viable route towards creating a more open, friendly, fraternal and Christian atmosphere than what many priests and laity seem to experience at present. It will help us to meet a goal presented by the Diocesan Synod document, that is, "to be better poised, spiritually... to meet the challenges of the new millennium and thus be able to more effectively build the kingdom of God on earth with the grace of God."
The sadness and sense of desperation that we experience as so prevalent in our diocese impels us all to find a way to be true witnesses to the joy of the Gospel of Jesus, to the possibilities of forgiveness and reconciliation and to the power of truth, openness and flexibility to bring peace to our communities.
We hope that you will receive this appeal and respond to it in the same spirit of charity, respect and fraternity with which we offer it. We have great confidence that, if we approach one another in a spirit of truth and humility, the overwhelming grace of God will make up for whatever we may lack in truth and humility and bring our project to a peaceful and fruitful conclusion.
We ask you to respond to our proposal through the committee of three listed below, who were chosen by a small group of priests who first started to consider the proposal.
Chris Aridas Tom Gallagher
Rev. Chris W. Aridas Rev. Thomas G. Gallagher
Rev. Msgr. Peter J. Pflomm Rev.
The Names and Addresses of the Signers