Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, WIThe failure of the Roman Catholic Church — at every level — to deal with abusive clergy within its ranks, is slowly becoming more and more evident, as increasing amounts of information come to light about how it dealt with them. One such case is that of Fr Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at St John’s School for the Deaf in Wisconsin, which the New York Times describes in detail (WebCite cached article):

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.

It took a long time for Ratzinger, then in charge of this case, to act on it. But after they began to act, they suddenly aborted the process, at Fr Murphy’s own request:

In 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters about the case from Rembert G. Weakland, Milwaukee’s archbishop at the time. After eight months, the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican’s secretary of state, instructed the Wisconsin bishops to begin a secret canonical trial that could lead to Father Murphy’s dismissal.

But Cardinal Bertone halted the process after Father Murphy personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church’s own statute of limitations.

“I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood,” Father Murphy wrote near the end of his life to Cardinal Ratzinger. “I ask your kind assistance in this matter.” The files contain no response from Cardinal Ratzinger.

Of course, the CDF office at the Vatican — which then was under the command of the current Pope — was not the only part of the hierarchy which dropped the ball, in the case of Fr Murphy. Despite what they knew about him, Wisconsin bishops continued to grant him sanctuary and refused to report him to authorities:

Father Murphy not only was never tried or disciplined by the church’s own justice system, but also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims, according to the documents and interviews with victims. Three successive archbishops in Wisconsin were told that Father Murphy was sexually abusing children, the documents show, but never reported it to criminal or civil authorities.

Instead of being disciplined, Father Murphy was quietly moved by Archbishop William E. Cousins of Milwaukee to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin in 1974, where he spent his last 24 years working freely with children in parishes, schools and, as one lawsuit charges, a juvenile detention center. He died in 1998, still a priest.

Among those in authority within the Church who moved Fr Murphy around, instead of holding him accountable for his actions, was Milwaukee archbishop Rembert Weakland, who — as I’ve blogged previously — admitted, after retiring, that he’d been unaware that child abuse was a criminal matter. It took many years for him to realize it, but eventually, even this amoral and reprehensible creature realized Fr Murphy shouldn’t be with children:

Archbishop Weakland said this week in an interview, “The evidence was so complete, and so extensive that I thought he should be reduced to the lay state, and also that that would bring a certain amount of peace in the deaf community.”

Nevertheless, Weakland’s “too little, too late” request was ignored anyway.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,