Bishop Murphy defends handling of abuse cases

Bishop William F. Murphy discusses his 10 years

Bishop William F. Murphy discusses his 10 years as head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. (Sept. 20, 2011) (Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan)

The Roman Catholic Church is likely the safest institution in the United States for children, Bishop William F. Murphy says.

In some of his most extensive comments on the priest sexual-abuse scandal, Murphy said in an interview that the Diocese of Rockville Centre has "done well" in its response. And he defended his former role as the No. 2 official in the Archdiocese of Boston, where abuse allegations surfaced in 2002.

"I share the concern of each and every member of the church," Murphy said. "But, have we done the right thing? Yes. Are we in a position in which we've done more than any other institution in the United States? Yes. I'm not saying that to brag. It's a fact.

"Probably there is no institution in America today in which a child is more safe than in the Catholic Church because of all that we've done," he said. The scandal "should not be put in the past, but neither should it be used as an excuse for people to beat up the church."

Murphy served as vicar general under Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston from 1993 to 2001. He had been in his new post on Long Island five months when the abuse reports were disclosed, and was among those in Boston criticized by investigators and victim advocates.

Murphy denied any role in covering-up sexual abuse. He pointed out he was singled out mistakenly in some media reports when it was another priest by the same name in Boston who was directly responsible for handling most of the abuse cases. In a 2003 grand jury report, then-Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said the law did not allow him to indict Cardinal Law and his senior staff, including Murphy. But Reilly called their actions and their secrecy "deplorable" and decried a "massive and pervasive failure of leadership."

"Many believe he has still not been able to adequately address or explain what happened" in Boston, said Dan Bartley, former head of the Long Island chapter of the Voice of the Faithful, a national group formed in 2002 to demand accountability and transparency from the church hierarchy.

Murphy rejected blame.

"There are people who will simply not let go of what they think I did in Boston," he said. "And I can tell you it's a fact, an objective fact, that I did not deal with these issues when they were presented to the church. They were in another person's, another priest's, purview."

Since coming to Long Island, some Catholics say, he has been less than forthright in refusing to name previously accused priests.

A 2003 Suffolk County grand jury report described a history of covered-up sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of Rockville Centre from the 1960s into the 1990s.

Murphy's spokesman, Sean Dolan, said the diocese "cooperated completely with the grand jury investigation" and did not release the names of the accused priests because "the report lacked the protections afforded to accused persons in other accusatory processes." Priests removed since then have been identified by the diocese, Dolan said.

Murphy said he removed four priests within six weeks after becoming bishop in 2001. The diocese also has implemented mandatory training for anyone who has contact with children and adheres to a policy adopted by U.S. bishops in June 2002 requiring church officials to notify authorities when there are credible accusations of abuse by a priest or church worker.

Bartley agreed "progress has been made in the diocese," but said Murphy's call on critics to "just let go" of his role in Boston "is completely inappropriate."

Murphy said the tragedy of the priest sexual-abuse scandal is never far from his thoughts.

"In my breviary, in the section of night prayer, I keep a picture of an altar boy who committed suicide at age 22," he said. "I can never put it to rest, and I never will. I can never not be vigilant -- and I always will."

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