On January 9th the Co-Chairs of LIVOTF forwarded a mailing to the priests of the Diocese of Rockville Centre setting forth our hopes for their January 19th meeting with Bishop Murphy and our thoughts on what it will take to return ".Peace and Harmony to Our Scandalized Church." We encourage you to read the material that follows, and to discuss it with your priests if you have the opportunity to do so.

The Transmittal Letter

"Long Island Voice of the Faithful, Inc.
P.O. Box 1007
Nesconset, NY 11767
Votf-li.org

January 9, 2004
Dear Father:

The past two years have not been easy for our Church. A scandal that began in a single diocese spread across the Church in this country and beyond. In the process, it revealed "profound flaws. in the human institutional life of our Church." Many Catholics believe these flaws destroyed the bonds of trust that unite us, and must be corrected. The most vocal among them speak for their brothers and sisters when they insist that whatever the outcome of the scandals, one thing is certain, a return to business as usual in our Church is no longer an option.

While you may not agree with this characterization of our current situation, it would be difficult for anyone to deny there is discord among many loyal and devout members of our Church today.

With this in mind, and with the knowledge that you and the other priests of our diocese will be discussing this matter with Bishop Murphy shortly, we prepared a paper outlining where we stand, and what we think it will take for peace and harmony to return to the post scandal Church. As we believe the paper touches on issues that are pertinent to the subject matter of your meeting, we implore you to read through the paper as part of your preparation for January 19th.

Sincerely,

Patricia Zirkel              Dan Bartley
Co-Chairperson            Co-Chairperson

Att:

Where We Stand

The Long Island Voice of the Faithful

On Bringing Peace and Harmony to Our Scandalized Church

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 egregious allegations.

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 program.

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 as donors.

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 council.

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 Press, 2002)

"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.

Unchristian Allegations

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 church."

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 our cause.

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 sexual abuse."

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 Catholic Reporter:

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 respect.

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 this:

Daily Prayer for Our Priests

Heavenly Father, grant that our priests be strengthened and healed by the power of the Eucharist they celebrate.

May the Word they proclaim give them courage and wisdom.

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

For related materials, see correspondence.