Long Island’s Bishop Murphy: Fighting the Good Fight

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For over a decade, I have lived in New York’s Diocese of Rockville Centre.  Created by Pope Pius XII in 1957, it encompasses Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties, and with 133 parishes it is home to 1.5 million Catholics, about 52 percent of the total population.

After the Second World War, Long Island’s Catholic population skyrocketed. GI Bill of Rights benefits and FHA/VA housing loans caused a mass exodus from New York City’s old Catholic ethnic neighborhoods to what historian Kenneth Jackson called the “Crabgrass Frontier.”

The first suburban “bedroom” community was built in the late 1940s by Levitt and Sons, Inc. in Nassau County. The 4,000 cookie-cutter homes developed on former potato and onion fields and named Levittown, were populated mostly by newly married Catholic GIs.

Because of the large Catholic population, Long Island was very conservative – politically and culturally. In the 1950s, Eisenhower received over 70 percent of Long Island’s vote, Nixon garnered 65 percent of votes cast in 1972, as did Reagan in 1984. Catholics have controlled the Republican Party and a vast majority of federal, state, and local elected positions.

But over the last three decades, Long Island’s Catholic community has seen its demography change. The surviving Catholic members of the “Greatest Generation” are north of eighty. Baby Boomers are retiring to sunny tax-friendly states. The demise of New York’s manufacturing sector has forced many blue-collar Catholics to seek jobs in the south and southwest. Young Catholic families can’t afford to live on Long Island because it has the highest state and local taxes in the nation. And there are growing numbers of cafeteria Catholics.

Since 2001, dealing with these challenges has been the responsibility of Rockville Centre’s fourth Ordinary, the most Reverend William F. Murphy, STD, LHD. Bishop Murphy, a native of Boston, earned advance degrees at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and served from 1980 to 1987 as Under Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He also taught theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and at the Gregorian.

Bishop Murphy has not been bashful when it has come to defending Church teachings in the public square. He has spoken out against the anti-Catholic HHS mandates, New York’s same-sex “marriage” act, and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed Reproductive Health Care Act, which would make abortion a right and abolish time limitations.

Reacting to the ever-growing government leviathan, Murphy has observed: “More and more, government becomes the regulator and then the administrator of seemingly endless new social positions and policies to the detriment of intermediate institutions and local free initiatives.”

He went on to argue that the Nanny State was violating subsidiarity, which holds that government exists to protect and guarantee the freedom of every person to perform social activities, and that those are best performed by the lowest and smallest groups capable of carrying them out.

Recently, the Diocese of Rockville Centre made national headlines after Bishop Murphy supported a pastor’s decision to remove an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, who was also a religious education instructor to fifth graders, because he’s a male homosexual who “married” a man.

To considerable media hoopla, Faithful America, an online leftist, social-justice political organization, submitted to the chancery an online-generated petition that read: 

Dear Bishop Murphy:
Please let Nicolas Coppola resume volunteering at his parish – and make it clear that faithful gay and lesbian Catholics are welcome to participate fully in parish life in your diocese.
18,603 members of Faithful America

Refusing to back down, the diocesan office of communications confirmed it received the petition, which “did not as it would appear, fill the three large boxes that were received. In fact, two of the boxes were empty.”

The statement went on to say:

The Catholic Church recognizes that all persons share equally in the dignity of being human and are entitled to have that human dignity protected. This does not, however, justify the creation of a new definition for marriage, a term whose traditional meaning is of critical importance to the furtherance of fundamental societal interests. Well-settled Church teaching recognizes marriage to be the joining of one man and one woman in a lifelong, holy and loving union that is open to children, ordered for the good of the children and the spouses themselves. Regardless of civil pronouncements, this definition does not, and indeed cannot, change in the eyes of the Church because it is rooted in biological teleology and natural law. . . .As Bishop Murphy has said:  “Church teaching is not discriminate against homosexual men and women.  No one has a right to discriminate against persons because of sexual orientation.”  It is, however, the case that all Church institutions and teachers of the faith are bound to support this teaching, particularly by their public action.

Being an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion is not a right; it is a privilege. The granting of that privilege pre-supposes that someone is well instructed in Church teachings, subscribes to them privately and publicly, and is in good standing with the Church. People married outside the Church, heterosexual or homosexual, do not meet the basic requirements to serve as an extraordinary minister or to teach the faithful in a parish CCD program.

It would be nice to think this is an isolated incident. But it’s more likely the opening round of what will be a protracted conflict. Gay “marriage” threatens to become a tool not only for those who want to undermine Catholic moral teaching from the outside, but from inside as well.           

Let’s hope bishops throughout the nation are getting ready for this onslaught. And that they follow Bishop Murphy’s brave example in defending Church rights and Catholic teaching in an increasingly hostile public square.

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.