Sunday, November 10, 2002

How Long Island priests are running interference between their irritated parishioners and their bishop

When Msgr. Vincent Rush took to the pulpit and unfolded his homily last week, worshipers at St. Hugh of Lincoln sensed something different was coming. The pastor usually speaks informally. Without notes. Standing at the steps in front of the altar. Using the day's poignant gospel from St. Matthew about the hypocrisy of church leaders, Rush said the readings "were an invitation to talk about the scandals of this past year." The existence of pedophiles in the priesthood, he said, and their repeated transfers to other parishes came as no surprise to him. The bishops stupidly ignored the problem, Rush continued, and now won't soon forget "the vivid and well-needed lesson" they learned.

But Rush went on to question whether they have learned the wider lesson of how their calling can be betrayed.

"Probably the most common failing among us priests, and among bishops, in today's church is a failure to respect the rights and gifts of the lay people ... " he said. Rush said Catholics are understandably conflicted about giving their money to the Diocese of Rockville Centre and their questions deserve to be answered first. Saying his worn rectory needed "a new kitchen and lots more," Rush called Bishop William Murphy's new $1-million residence a mistake. Murphy chose to renovate the top floor of the former convent at St. Agnes Cathedral, displacing several nuns.

But, Rush said, "The right way to deal with distress about the residence is to write him about it, not to stop giving to diocesan ministries." Murphy himself is trying to soothe the controversy by making a special appearance on Telecare and traveling throughout the diocese to meet with priests.

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