February 2, 2011| The Long Island Catholic Vol. 49, No. 40 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
There is nothing that a Bishop does in governing a diocese that is more important than the appointment of pastors. The pastors of our diocese are truly my right hands as an extension of my leadership of this local Church. Our rapport is not that of employer and employee. Still less are we functionaries filling slots on a map of Long Island. As Pastor of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, I have the responsibility to pastor all the faithful of the diocese, “sanctifying, teaching and governing” one and all who are members of this One Body of Christ. This is an awesome task and a responsibility that I accepted when, responding to God, I said yes to the Holy Father on June 26, 2001 and thus became the Shepherd of this truly blessed Church. Each day I pray and each day I ask you to pray that the Lord might give me the gifts needed to fulfill my commitment to Him, to the Holy Father and to you. Without you my priestly service and my Episcopal mandate would be senseless. With you and for you I know the Lord will strengthen us all to become ever more fully the Body of Christ by belonging ever more deeply to him and to one another in this seamless Church in which each of us has a role and a responsibility and all of us are called to witness the life, death and resurrection of Christ for the salvation of the world.
In our diocese there are 133 parishes and thus a need to find among our priests those men who are the best “fit” for 133 faith communities. I am ably assisted by the Office for Clergy under the direction of Msgr. Brian McNamara. We are assisted by a Priests’ Personnel Assignment Board, priests who are elected for a three-year period by their brothers to discuss the needs of parishes, review the qualifications of priests and make recommendations to me of a terna, three of our priests from which I choose one, after having listened to their discussions and been able to benefit by their counsel and advice.
The meetings are confidential so the priests may feel free to speak openly and candidly without having their thoughts impugn and call the goodness of any priest into question. The priest members are supplied ahead of the meeting with information about the spiritual life and the administrative and financial conditions of the parish in question.
All the priests of the diocese receive that same information in good time before the meeting so a priest might put his own name or the name of a brother priest before the Board for their consideration.
My predecessor, Bishop John McGann, set up a process that also included inviting deacons, religious and members of the parish staff to offer their comments for the guidance of the Board members. The three auxiliary bishops bring their own expertise to these discussions because they are the ones who make the official visitations of parishes. The Vicar General is a full participant because he often has insights about the administration and the material conditions of parishes including their finances. All this material is reviewed by every board member prior to the meeting and is before him during the meeting.
When I came to the diocese, I was impressed by this very good process. I also made an addition to it. I wanted to give the person in the pew who is not a deacon or staff member the opportunity to add some words about their hopes and expectations for the future of the parish. Thus we began the “open meeting” in which any parishioner may speak or leave a written message stating the strengths of the parish, the things they might like to see improved or developed and the kinds of qualities the new pastor ought to have. This initiative of mine was done with full confidence in the parishioners and in their desire for the best leadership possible, a desire which also would include the understanding that the diocese has limited personnel resources and we simply do not have enough vocations to the priesthood from our parishes to be able to provide for every need and every situation. I must say I have been impressed by the generosity of the parishioners, their genuine love for their priests and their parishes and their understanding that, with my colleagues, I will do my best as your bishop to provide you with the priestly pastoral leadership we all want you to have.
While occasionally emotions run high and misinformation can lead to intemperate remarks that may be less than gracious or Christian and thus do not reflect who we are as God’s holy people, I believe this is a good addition to an already well thought out process. For example, the Church in our country has an indult from Rome that determines that a pastor is appointed for a six-year term. This was a request of priests more than thirty years ago. After five years as your bishop, I reached the conclusion that two six-year terms are ordinarily more than enough for a pastor and that it would be good for him and good for both the parish and the diocese that he assume the leadership of another parish. That was not arbitrary. It was the fruit of five years of getting to know our diocese, our priests, our people. Another example would be the diocesan regulation since the Vatican Council that in the year a priest turns 75, he must submit his resignation to the bishop, normally to take effect when the new pastors are named for the end of June. This diocesan regulation follows the decision of the Council that every bishop, and thus yours truly, must submit a letter of resignation to the Holy Father in the year the bishop turns 75. That I will do in 2015.
When that date comes and the Holy Father accepts my resignation, I know he will give you a bishop after the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. I rejoice in that. Yet I also know I will feel the pain of having to leave the leadership of the diocese I have come to love with all my heart and sought to serve with all my being. No matter what may have been realized through God’s grace during these years, I am even more convinced that we priests come to serve for a time, offer what we can for a time. It is true: “one may sow, another may reap but it is Christ who gives the increase.”