Where We Stand
The Long Island Voice of the Faithful
On Bringing Peace and Harmony to Our Scandalized
Our Mission is "To provide a prayerful
voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively
participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church."
The Voice of the Faithful adopted that mission in
response to a failed system encumbered with leaders operating behind
a wall of secrecy; leaders who condoned by their silence and facilitated
by their inaction, egregious sexual abuse by clergy, who failed
to punish those responsible and who refused to accept or even acknowledge
their accountability to the people they were ordained to serve.
No one should expect a return to business as usual, nor will the
laity permit a return to business as usual.
Members of Voice of the Faithful believe that ".the
laity has the graced dignity, intelligence, responsibility and obligation
to cooperate in church governance in a meaningful way according
to the norms of canon law, in order to correct the profound flaws
that have been revealed in the human institutional life of our Church."
(From our Statement of Beliefs).
Meaningful change must take place from the parish
level upwards and it must encompass the vision of Second Vatican
Council. To that end, we will urge the faithful of each parish and
our pastors to engage in, and enthusiastically support the formation
and actions of Pastoral and Finance Councils and Safety Committees.
We also seek corresponding lay participation and consultation at
the diocesan level.
Significant obstacles stand in the way of these
goals. The collaborative role we seek has been blocked by Bishop
Murphy's charges that stigmatize us as dissidents with hidden agendas,
by his apathetic response to calls for accountability and openness,
and by his tardy and reactive compliance with the USCCB Charter
for the Protection of Children and Youth.
The diocese's own listening sessions, confirmed
by LIVOTF polling, show that our parishioners are angry, disillusioned
and demoralized. They are protesting with their pocketbooks and
sadly, some are leaving. His insistence on repeatedly making false
charges against us is inflammatory. Further, by repeating these
accusations he encourages organizations such as the Catholic League
and the Knights of Columbus to involve themselves publicly in these
issues, therefore fanning the flames of disunity that threaten our
diocese. This escalating conflict, precipitated in large part by
Bishop Murphy's distortions about our position on church teaching
has endangered the financial stability of our diocese.
Sooner or later the secrecy, denial and dissembling
tactics will fail. Until that happens and collaboration replaces
confrontation, we are forced into an adversarial position. This
is the basis for our initiatives involving the Bishop's Annual Appeal,
our vigils and other measures necessary to draw attention to our
cause and to counter the stifling effects of the bishop's ban and
While applying financial pressure on the diocesan
level, we will not lose sight of the obligation parishioners have
to support our parishes and parish ministries. We will, therefore,
continue to encourage members and those of like mind to sign up
and participate in "Our $$Make A Difference" parish-based donation
A concerted effort will also be made to bring about
the broadest possible distribution of "A Donor Bill of Rights."
We will encourage parishioners to expect and exercise their rights
We derive no satisfaction from having to pursue
many of these initiatives. They were forced upon us when our efforts
to develop a collaborative relationship with the bishop were rejected
time and again.
Our Efforts to Collaborate with Bishop Murphy
On August 11, 2002, approximately 65 Catholics gathered
at St. Sylvester's in Medford to pray and to share their concerns
about our Church in light of revelations about the sexual abuse
scandal. Several days later, without any attempt at dialogue, Bishop
Murphy banned VOTF members from meeting on Church property.
Our first formal attempt to reach out to Bishop
Murphy in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration was a letter
from LIVOTF Co-Chair Dan Bartley dated October 29, 2002. The letter
included the following hopeful thought, "I truly believe that if
we embrace one another and work together, out of our shared love
for our Church, remarkable things will happen."
Although a brief meeting followed, no progress came
of this effort, so we tried again.
Concerned about potential financial ramifications
to the Bishop's Annual Appeal resulting from revelations about Bishop
Murphy's new residence and the sexual abuse scandal, on December
27, 2002 we wrote to Bishop Murphy offering to meet with him and
his financial advisors to discuss financial openness and to assist
with the Bishop's Annual Appeal. The letter closed with this thought.
"This is a great opportunity to re-establish trust, restore unity
and ensure the financial stability of our diocese."
This entreaty, too, was rejected. On January 14,
2003, Msgr. Robert Brennan responded to our letter on behalf of
Bishop Murphy. He dismissed our call for financial openness and
rejected our offer to assist with the appeal. We were directed instead
to cooperate with our pastors.
What appeared to be a positive turn of events occurred
in March of 2003. The Bishop's secretary, Fr. Joseph DeGrocco invited
"the leadership of Voice of the Faithful" to meet with Bishop Murphy
at his residence. A warm and cordial meeting followed between LIVOTF
leadership and Bishop Murphy and his staff on March 26th. Bishop
Murphy did not lift the ban. He did, however, indicate receptiveness
to the formation of a representative diocesan council and finance
LIVOTF attendees agreed that the meeting was an
encouraging and productive first step towards dialogue. It was at
this meeting that excerpts from our statement of beliefs were read
to Bishop Murphy:
|"We love and support the Roman Catholic Church.
We accept the teaching authority of the Church, including the
role of bishops and the pre-eminent role of the Pope as the
primary teachers and leaders of the Church. We believe what
the Catholic Church believes."
In furtherance of the dialogue, we sent a letter
to Bishop Murphy on March 31st that summarized the discussion. It
closed with "We look forward to being with you again soon to continue
our journey toward building mutual trust."
But the journey was inexplicably terminated when
on April 11, diocesan spokesperson, Joanne Novarro, speaking publicly
on behalf of Bishop Murphy, denied that he had met with the leadership
of LIVOTF but only "with individuals."
Deeply grieved and offended by his response, and
at our urging, over one hundred of our members wrote to Bishop Murphy
expressing their disappointment and dissatisfaction with his unwillingness
to lift his ban. His response, in a letter dated April 17th 2003,
stated "Please be assured that if I were to receive ten times this
number of letters, they would not be cause for changing my mind."
This rebuke also prompted a letter from our Board
on April 26, 2003 expressing our frustration over how he had conducted
his relationship with LIVOTF.
We nonetheless looked for another opportunity to
convince our bishop. Thus, on May 30th, LIVOTF leadership recommended
to Bishop Murphy that he consider forming a liaison committee to
evaluate the ban as had been done by Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn.
Bishop Murphy rejected that offer and instead offered to meet personally
with LIVOTF leadership.
We later inquired about dates for such a meeting.
We received no response.
As this record so tragically reveals our bishop
has erected a ".wall of denial and silence guarding the present
ecclesial order." (Donald Cozzens in Sacred Silence, The Liturgical
|"In these times, it is helpful for all laity
and hierarchy to remember St. Ignatius Loyola's dictum that
one should always be willing to understand a person's words
in the most positive light. Bishops who now ask for trust in
the wake of the scandals should model this virtue by trusting
the laity." (Emphasis supplied). Editorial in America, December
16, 2002 that found the "hidden agenda" argument and the "anti-church"
arguments against VOTF to be without merit.
Apart from the ban, the charges and innuendo leveled
at us by Bishop Murphy regarding our position on Church teachings
have been equally disruptive of our efforts at collaboration. Apart
from their injury to LIVOTF, these unfounded allegations are destructive
to the entire church of Rockville Centre. They fan the flames of
disunity where healing and harmony are desperately needed.
Our above quoted statement of beliefs, submitted
to Bishop Murphy and read to him during our meeting of March 26th
made it perfectly clear that we do not challenge church teaching.
Devoid of merit is his charge that ambiguity exists
regarding our third goal, structural change. A thorough explanation
of structural change, reviewed by a respected canon lawyer, Fr.
Ladislas Orsy, S.J. for clarity and soundness has been posted on
our website for months. Moreover, on December 10, 2003, our Co-Chairs
Dan Bartley and Pat Zirkel summarized and publicly proclaimed what
we mean by structural change in a letter to the editor of Newsday.
Other compelling evidence refutes the Bishop's position.
After a careful and prayerful exchange that explored VOTF's mission,
goals and beliefs, Bishop Thomas Daily lifted the ban in Brooklyn.
A similar result was obtained in Cincinnati under the leadership
of Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk. And most recently Bishop Joseph
Gerry of Portland Maine rescinded his ban as well. Countless other
Bishops have elected not to impose bans.
Joining those Bishops and in many cases lauding
our work have been respected publications such as America, Commonweal
and National Catholic Reporter, distinguished scholars including
theologians Thomas P. Rausch S.J., (see The Lay Vocation and Voice
of the Faithful, America, September 9, 2003); Dr. Thomas Beaudoin,
Dr. William Clark, S.J. and Dr. Anthony Massimini (see - Voice of
the Faithful Has the Right to Exist, signed by seventy scholars
-www.votf.org), and Thomas G. Plante (see - After the Earthquake,
America, January 5-12, 2004) who praises the activities of VOTF
in these words:
|"The growth, influence and active engagement
of V.O.T.F. have been remarkable. Church structures and policies
that concentrate decision making among the clergy and offer
only advisory roles for the laity certainly do not encourage
active engagement among rank and file Catholics. The recent
crisis forced the laity to be more assertive with their church,
and groups like Voice of the Faithful appear to be here to stay.
This is good news, since it provides at least some degree of
checks and balances on church authorities. A lively, active
and involved laity can, in the end, only be productive for the
And last but not least, there is Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
who makes this plea:
|"We can only hope that Voice of the
Faithful and other lay groups will have the stamina to persist
in their efforts to hold the bishops accountable and to bring
structural reform to the church." Commonweal, October 10, 2003
Apart from these endorsements, you our priests can
attest to other compelling evidence of our good faith. As many of
you know, we are the Eucharistic ministers, religious education
directors, outreach workers, liturgy leaders, pastoral council leaders,
finance council members, ushers and other parish ministers who faithfully
and lovingly serve their church. We are a prayerful people. According
to a recent survey, of 700 respondents, 92% attend Mass weekly and
34% attend Mass daily. We are not the enemy.
We are the faithful described in the Editorial of
the National Catholic Reporter, November 7th, 2003, which reported
on the Tri-state Conference held at Fordham University:
More than 1,500 attended the Voice
of the Faithful gathering.. From the stirring welcome by Jesuit
Fr. Joseph McShane, who was installed as the new president
of Fordham the day before the conference, to the closing liturgy,
I most profoundly sensed it as a day with the people of God,
not in some manner of celestial glow, but in the deeper, down-to-earth
pursuits of holiness and wholeness in an aching church..
Voice of the Faithful has clearly evolved
out of the sex abuse crisis - and it remains, as it should,
attentive to the still unraveling story of victims and the
church's role in the scandal.
But its larger purpose, its more significant
calling, is to bring to bear on the church the force of its
collective experience, wisdom and love for the Church. And
that last phrase is not an idle one, I think. Why else spend
a beautiful Saturday sitting on metal folding chairs on a
college gym floor?
Calling the whole church to account is the
work of responsible laity in this era of scandal. Voice of
the Faithful is one of the signs of hope in today's Church.
_ Tom Roberts
We are confident that any objective appraisal of
VOTF-LI will validate its rightful role as a legitimate lay association
faithfully answering the call of Vatican II. Should the opportunity
arise, we respectfully urge you to advocate our shared goals and
The Resignation Request
Our relations with the Bishop took a sudden turn
with the revelations in the July 23, 2003 Massachusetts Attorney
General's report. Our members voted overwhelmingly to ask Bishop
Murphy to resign. We believe the scathing report, which cites Bishop
Murphy's malfeasance on numerous occasions, (see www.votf-li.org/resignation_story.html)
raised serious doubts about his ability to exercise the moral leadership
that is essential in the office of Bishop. Here from page 39 of
the report, is a summary of the Bishop's role:
|"And, even with undeniable information
available to him on the risk of recidivism, Bishop Murphy continued
to place a higher priority on preventing scandal and providing
support to alleged abusers than on protecting children from
We believe it would be best for our beloved diocese
if Bishop Murphy followed the recent council of his friend and mentor,
Cardinal Law. According to the December 26, 2003 issue of the National
|The Cardinal said he decided to resign
as Archbishop of Boston "because I felt it was paradoxically
the best way.that I could serve the church of Boston." He said
he understood that people had lost confidence in him. "It's
very important that there be that kind of confidence generally.And
so I made that decision. I think it was the right decision."
The Healing Process
We pray that Bishop Murphy and the people of the
diocese will eventually resolve whether or not it is in the best
interests of our local church for him to retain his office. We believe,
however, that while he remains our Bishop it is in the best interest
of our diocese that we try to work with him. We are hopeful that,
out of a shared love of our church, we can work together in mutual
For the healing process to begin, Bishop Murphy
must take steps to dispel the cloud of suspicion his words and actions
have cast over LIVOTF. He must stop making his erroneous accusations
about our position on church teaching and actively correct those
who make such charges. Finally, he must become proactive in implementing
the structural changes that are necessary to assure full accountability
and transparency in the operations of our diocese and in the protection
of our children.
In an attempt to bridge the gap in our relationship,
we recently invited Bishop Murphy and his representatives to join
us at our January 15th General Membership Meeting. Our guest speaker
is Michael Bemi. Mr. Bemi is President & CEO of the National Catholic
Risk Retention Group. This is the organization responsible for designing
the VIRTUS program. As you know, this is the program used to train
diocesan personnel in procedures for the avoidance of sexual abuse
of minors. In our letter of invitation we asked Bishop Murphy if
he or his representative would like to respond to the presentation.
We have not yet received a response. Each of you is encouraged to
join us at this informative meeting.
We hope and pray that your upcoming meeting on January
19th with Bishop Murphy will mark the beginning of the healing process
in our diocese. Please feel free to confer with Bishop Murphy regarding
any of the facts we have presented here. You may also wish to ask
him to reconsider his ban that encourages disunity, to abate the
accusations against us, to promote accountability, and to replace
confrontation with collaboration.
Recently we asked our members to join together in
a collective daily prayer that your concerns and ours will be addressed
at the meeting with the bishop. The recommended prayer goes like
Daily Prayer for
Heavenly Father, grant that our priests be
strengthened and healed by the power of the Eucharist they
May the Word they proclaim give them courage
We pray that all those whom they seek to serve
may see in them the love and care of Jesus, our Eternal High
Priest, who is Lord forever and ever. Amen
Mary, Mother of the Church, look tenderly
upon your sons, your priests. Joseph, patron of the Universal
Church, pray for us all. Amen
We are actively soliciting participation in this
program via our website and by mail. Close to three hundred members
have already signed up. It is our fervent hope that those prayers
will be answered.
The Long Island Voice of the Faithful