VATICAN CITY, MARCH 26, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The documentation published by The New York Times contradicts its own thesis, which accuses Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of not being sufficiently energetic in the case of an American priest who the Church punished for acts of pederasty.
This is the conclusion of an analysis by Riccardo Cascioli that appeared in today’s edition of Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference.
According to The New York Times, “top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not laicize a priest who had molested some 200 deaf boys, despite the fact that several American bishops repeatedly warned that the lack of decisive action in the matter could embarrass the Church.”
“In reality, in fact, the whole documentation published by The New York Times on its site, contradicts this tendentious reading of facts regarding Father Lawrence Murphy, between 1950 and 1974, chaplain in a school for the deaf of the Diocese of Milwaukee,” Cascioli clarified.
He added: “In fact, the documents state that the only ones to be concerned with the evil done by Father Murphy were top officials of the American diocese and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while the civil authorities filed the case.
“In particular the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entrusted with the issue only between 1996 and 1997, gave procedural indications in dealing with Father Murphy despite the distance of time of events which constituted an impediment to the norm of Canon Law.”
Here is a translation of Cascioli’s timeline, which appeared today in Avvenire.
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It all began on May 15, 1974, when a former student of St. John’s School for the Deaf presented a denunciation on abuses done to him and to other boys by Father Lawrence Murphy between 1964 and 1970, but — as has been reported — after an investigation, the judge in charge filed the case. The Diocese of Milwaukee instead immediately removed Father Murphy, with a temporary permission for reasons of health (until November 1974) which, however, became definitive. A letter of the Diocese of Superior in 1980 explains that Father Murphy lived in Bounder Junction, Wisconsin, in his mother’s house, continuing, however, to exercise his priestly ministry helping the local parish priest.
In the meantime, however, the denunciations to the Diocese of Milwaukee multiplied and between July and December of 1993. Father Murphy was subjected to four long interrogations by those in charge of the archdiocese assisted by expert psychologists in pedophilia. A clinical picture emerged of a “typical pedophile,” recommending psychological treatment for sexual obsessions and also pastoral/spiritual support, in addition to a restriction in his ministerial activity. Evident from the reports of the interrogations is that there were 29 denunciations of boys: Father Murphy admitted “contacts” only for 19 of the boys involved. Demonstrated in subsequent documents is that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee continued in its investigations seeking to speed up the reality and the breadth of the facts, and on July 17, 1996, Bishop Rembert Weakland wrote to the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, requesting help with the case of Father Murphy and of — not connected — another priest, accused of sexual and financial crimes.
Bishop Weakland made reference to the denunciation of 1974 and explained, however, that only recently had he come to the knowledge of the fact that certain sexual crimes occurred during the sacrament of confession, so he officially asked a priest of the diocese, Father James Connell, to conduct an in-depth investigation (the decree is of December 1995). An obstacle to ascertaining the facts — said bishop Weakland — was the understandable reticence of the boys and of the community of St. John’s School to make public embarrassing circumstances. Bishop Weakland turned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to have clarification on the jurisdiction in this case of “crimes of solicitation” (canon 1387), whether it belonged to the diocese or to the congregation.
From subsequent documents it would seem that the letter never arrived on Cardinal Ratzinger’s desk and of the then Archbishop [Tarcisio] Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In any case, in the absence of a reply, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee went ahead and on Dec. 10, 1996, informed Father Murphy that on Nov. 22, ecclesiastical criminal proceedings were opened against him with a court-created ad hoc. The request of the accusation was the “destitution of Father Murphy from the clerical state.”
The problem that was posed, however, was that of the prescription of crimes committed, for which the norm of Canon Law would have impeded to proceed. But the archbishop of Milwaukee was determined to single out an exception to the canon taking into account the physical and psychological situation of the victims, an intention endorsed later by Archbishop Bertone in the letter of March 24, 1997. At the end of 1997, the process then passed to the Diocese of Superior, but the president of the court was the same as that of Milwaukee, Father Thomas Brundage. Evidenced clearly from the documents presented by The New York Times was the intention of the ecclesiastical authorities of Milwaukee and Superior to proceed in the most expeditious way possible to come to an act of justice and reparation for the victims and the community of St. John’s School.
In the meantime, Father Murphy wrote a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger (Jan. 12, 1998), requesting the annulment of the process entrusted to him because the Instruction of 1962 provides for undertaking criminal action within a period of 30 days from the moment in which the accusation is presented. Father Murphy asserted, among other things, in addition to being repentant that he was gravely ill and in any case had been living in retirement for 24 years, for which he requested at least not to be reduced to the lay state.
On April 6, 1998, Archbishop Bertone wrote to Bishop Fliss of Superior, in the name of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explaining that — after having examined the affair carefully — there was no fixed period for criminal action as invoked by Father Murphy, so that the process could continue even if — added Bertone — it is right to take into account article 1341 of the Code of Canon Law according to which a criminal sanction must be commuted only after having verified that it is not “possible to obtain sufficient reparation for the scandal, the re-establishment of justice, the emendation of the offender” with other means.
Bishop Fliss answered Archbishop Bertone on May 13, affirming that, in keeping with what the congregation indicated, there was the necessity of a prosecution of Father Murphy taking into account the gravity of the scandal and of the great pain inflicted on the Catholic community of St. John’s School.
We arrive then at May 30 when there was a meeting in the Vatican between Archbishop Bertone, the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father Gianfranco Girotti, and the American prelates concerned with the case. Evident from the minutes of the meeting is that in the congregation there were doubts about the feasibility and opportuneness of the canonical process, given the difficulty of reconstructing the events that happened 35 years earlier, above all that which concerned the crime in the confessional, and given that no other accusations resulted for the period from 1974 onward. Hence Bertone, at the conclusion of the meeting, summarized the two essential lines to be held: a territorial restriction for the priestly ministry (in practice, Father Murphy had to stay in Superior) and decisive action to obtain the priest’s repentance, including the threat of “resignation from the clerical state.”
op of Milwaukee wrote again on Aug. 19 to Archbishop Bertone to update him on the measures taken to activate the lines indicated by the congregation, and to inform him of the fact that his diocese would continue to be responsible for the expenses to maintain the therapies for the victims of sexual abuses. In the end, Father Murphy died on Aug. 21, closing the case definitively.