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Diocese expels visiting priest

The Diocese of Rockville Centre has expelled a priest brought here for the last eight summers by Msgr. James Lisante without the diocese's knowledge, and who was suspended recently by his home diocese near Guam.

The Rev. Matthew Blockley, who assisted Lisante, a Fox News commentator, and upset some parishioners in Lisante's new parish in Massapequa Park who said Blockley removed a religious statue, has been ordered by Bishop William Murphy to immediately cease presenting himself as a priest on Long Island.

After learning Blockley was working here without authorization, the bishop also ordered him to cease celebrating public Masses here, Rockville Centre spokesman Sean Dolan said Friday. Murphy then instructed Blockley to immediately return to his home diocese in the Northern Mariana Islands.

"He's no longer in the diocese and he will not be coming back to the diocese," Dolan said. He said Blockley left for the Northern Marianas in the last week or so. Originally from the United Kingdom, Blockley could not be reached for comment Friday.

Lisante acknowledged he should have followed church rules and acted more aggressively to get official permission for Blockley to work here, although he noted the rules were not as strict in 2000 - when Blockley first arrived - as they became after the 2002 sex abuse scandal.

Visiting priests must be vetted to ensure there are no problems in their backgrounds.

"No one in the world is saying Father Matthew has done anything wrong," Lisante said. "Father Matthew is a good priest, a hardworking priest. ... There was no issue of faith or morals."

Dolan said he could not comment on whether Lisante was disciplined by Murphy. He said for the last eight years the Diocese of Rockville Centre essentially did not know Blockley was operating here.

He said Blockley was suspended by his bishop in the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa in the Northern Marianas apparently because he did not respond to the bishop's instructions to return home. Lisante said Blockley had worked in the Philippines since around 2000 after a falling out with his local bishop.

In 2004, the bishop, Tomas Camacho, placed an announcement in the Archdiocese of Miami's pastoral bulletin asking for assistance in locating Blockley. Camacho did not respond to telephone messages this week.

Lisante, who violated church policy by endorsing John McCain for president in May, said he first met Blockley at a religion conference in 2000 and encouraged him to come to Long Island to provide summer help.

Some parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes in Massapequa Park, a conservative parish, said they were angered by some of Blockley's actions, including his removal of a Our Lady of Fatima statue from the altar. The statue had been in place for 25 years and was a symbol of the parish's orthodox spirituality.

Lisante, who became the parish's pastor June 25, bringing Blockley with him, called the protests an overreaction, and said it was another priest who removed the statue.

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