Monthly Archives: March 2010

Pfizer Found Guilty of Violating RICO Act

Normally, the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) has been associated with organized crime. However, this past week a Boston jury found pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had violated the RICO Act in marketing its Neurontin drug for uses that the FDA never approved. The fine for the violation is $47.4 million. Since the jury found Pfizer violated the RICO act, the fine was tripled.
Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals argued in court that Pfizer misled the insurance company in believing that Neurontin was an effective treatment for such off-label uses as treating migraines and bipolar disorder even though Neurontin had been approved to treat epilepsy in 1993.
Kaiser officials claim the false marketing claims made by Pfizer cost the insurance company in excess of $90 million.
Interestingly, Pfizer’s own studies found that Neurontin was no more effective than a placebo in treating migraines and bipolar disorder. These findings were not shared with doctors.

Vatican Defends Its Lack of Action

A few hours after the NY Times broke the front page story about a Milwaukee priest’s abuse of 200 deaf children, Vatican officials angrily denounced the story as an attack on the pope himself. L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper stated, “clear and despicable intention” to strike at Benedict “at any cost.” This in spite of the fact that the NY Times was quoting from the church’s own documents when writing the story about Fr. Lawrence Murphy a Wisconsin priest who was allowed to abuse deaf children for 3 decades in spite of the knowledge of 3 Milwaukee archbishops.
The Vatican newspaper declined to make any comment about why the church allowed the abusing priest to continue in ministry in spite of widespread knowledge that he was abusing children. Even a Wisconsin bishop was prevented by the Vatican from proceeding with a canonical trial against Fr. Murphy.
According to the latest in the Wall St. Journal, “Bishop Raphael Fliss, objected, saying in a letter to Cardinal Bertone that “I have come to the conclusion that scandal cannot be sufficiently repaired, nor justice sufficiently restored, without a judicial trial against Fr. Murphy.”
Bishop Fliss and Archbishop Weakland then met with Cardinal Bertone in Rome in May 1988. Archbishop Weakland informed Cardinal Bertone that Mr. Murphy had no sense of remorse and didn’t seem to realize the gravity of what he had done, according to a Vatican summary of the meeting.
But Cardinal Bertone insisted that there weren’t “sufficient elements to institute a canonical process” against Murphy because so much time had already passed, according to the summary. Instead, he said Murphy must be forbidden from celebrating Mass publicly outside his home diocese.
Archbishop Weakland, likening Mr. Murphy to a “difficult” child, then reminded Cardinal Bertone that three psychologists had determined he was a “typical” pedophile, in that he felt himself a victim.
But Cardinal Bertone suggested Murphy take a spiritual retreat to determine if he is truly sorry, or otherwise face possible defrocking.”

Vatican Mute on Priest Who Molested More than 200 Kids

The NY Times is running a major story above the fold today that is emblematic of the priest abuse scandal. It involves a priest, Fr. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest transferred from diocese to diocese after allegations that he molested children while serving at a prominent school for the deaf in Wisconsin. The fact that he molested such a large number of children is testament to the fact that church officials failed to act and protect children from this sexual predator.
Fr. Murphy was ordained in 1950 and arrived at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis Wisconsin that same year. In spite of numerous allegations and complaints of sexually abusing school children at St. John’s, Fr. Murphy becomes head of the school in 1963. According to church documents uncovered during litigation involving Fr. Murphy, the Archbishop of Milwaukee was first informed of the abuse in 1955. According to notes taken concerning the incident, Murphy even admitted the abuse. In spite of this, he continues at st. John’s and gets the promotion in 1963.
In 1974, a group of former students band together, compose a mock “Wanted” poster of the pedophile priest and stage a protest outside the cathedral in Milwaukee. The church does not respond to the protest nor the mounting allegations of abuse. Later that same year, Murphy is granted “sick leave” status and moves to northern Wisconsin. Murphy spends the last 24 years of his life working in the Diocese of Superior. During this time, he has unfettered access to children, working in parishes whose members have no idea of the danger Fr. Murphy posed to their children and grandchildren.
According to church documents, three successive Milwaukee archibishops (Meyer, Cousins, and Weakland) were told about Fr. Murphy’s abuse of minor children and did absolutely nothing. None of them reported the abuse to civil authorities nor informed the Vatican until 1996 when Archbishop Weakland contacted the Vatican (more specifically, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in order to seek Murphy’s removal from the priesthood. In his letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith whose dicastery handled cases involving priest sex abuse, Weakland mentioned the Murphy case may involve situations in which children were solicited in the confessional.
After a year of waiting with no response from Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop Weakland wrote a second letter this time to a different Vatican office. In the letter Weakland noted, ““true scandal in the future seems very possible.” Finally, Weakland discovered why he had not received any response from Cardinal Ratzinger or his undersecretary Cardinal Bertone.
According to the Times, “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.”
What Weakland didn’t know was that the Murphy case had been dropped after Fr. Murphy wrote a letter to Ratzinger personally appealing for leniency. When Archbishop Weakland wrote the second letter it was intended to provoke a response from the head of the Apostolic Signatura (the Church’s Supreme Court). However, the cardinal in charge of the Signatura wrote back saying it was Ratzinger’s Congregation in charge of the Murphy case. Archbishop Bertone (now Cardinal and Secretary of State) instructed the bishop of the Diocese of Superior to proceed with a canonical trial to remove Murphy from the priesthood. After Murphy’s personal appeal to Cardinal Ratzinger, Bertone contacted the bishop of Superior instructing him to drop the canonical trial. Instead, Bertone advised the bishop to use “pastoral measures”. In explaining his change of heart, Bertone told the bishop that his reversal was the result of Murphy’s letter to Ratzinger.
It’s sad to note that the top officials in the Vatican, Ratzinger and Bertone, are solicitous of Fr. Murphy’s requests while completely uninterested in the plights of the hundreds abused by Fr. Murphy. When asked by NY Times reporters why church officials did not punish Fr. Murphy, Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, stated, “the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties.” This is simply not true. Canon law does provide for automatic penalties in cases such as solicitation in the confessional. Lombardi is a well-educated churchman whose answer is somewhat curious. Was it another “slip” or another attempt at cover-up and conspiracy?

Boy Scouts and Catholic Church Follow a Similarly Destructive Path

The Boy Scouts of American and the Catholic Church have been well respected institutions in American society for decades. The Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church have cultivated a public image that is wholesome, healthy, and good. Now, their reputations are threatened by institutional ineptitude in the face of a crisis the scale of which neither has faced before. As new revelations come to us in Chinese water torture fashion, the institutions themselves are beginning to show signs of crumbling from a lack of trust. The road that led to this erosion of public trust is eerily similar for both institutions. Let’s look at their similarities for a moment:
1)both have had numerous allegations of sexual abuse of minors, 2)both have been slow to respond to those allegations, often preferring to dismiss the allegations or waging an attack campaign against their accusers, 3)both have documented their own scandal in secret archives or secret folders the institutions have kept serving as their own indictment, 4)both have refused accountability and transparency.
Organizations and public institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America won’t survive without the public trust. Once that public trust is gone, the institutions will cease to be effective. Unfortunately, as of this posting, both groups seem to be hell bent on self destruction. On the one hand, we have revelations that the Pope himself mishandled at least one abuse case involving a priest in the 1970’s which allowed the priest two decades’ worth of access to more children. This week, the damning evidence of cover-up and concealment has been revealed in the Boy Scout trial underway in Oregon.
Secrets, cover-ups, conspiracie to cover-up-these are not the hallmarks of great American institutions.

Zocor Receives FDA Warning for Muscle Injury

The FDA has issued a warning to Merck & Co. for its 80mg dosage of Zocor. The warning was issued because of Zocor’s association with an increased risk of muscle injury. Zocor, also known as simvastin, is a cholesterol lowering drug. While statins in general tend be associated with a higher incidence of muscle injury, Zocor may leave patients susceptible to an even higher risk of muscle injury including rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is a critical form of muscle injury, which has the potential to cause serious kidney damage, kidney failure, and even fatality.

Pope Sends Letter to Irish Catholics

In the midst of a sexual abuse crisis that has now crept dangerously close to the 82 year old pope himself, Benedict XVI issued a letter to Irish Catholics apologizing for the abuse and criticizing the country’s bishops for “grave errors of judgment and failures of leadership.” The letter doesn’t address Benedict’s own involvement in the crisis nor this past week’s revelation that as the Archbishop of Munich Benedict himself shared in those “grave errors of judgment and failures of leadership”.
The most astute analysis of the situation comes from Terry McKiernan, founder and president of McKiernan correctly stated, “There’s a strong tendency to approach this as a problem of faith, when it is a problem of church management and a lack of accountability,”
McKiernan’s comments underlie the real issue at hand. Neither the bishops nor the pope appear ready or willing to come to terms with it. Stories of clergy sexual abuse of minors are not an attack on faith or the church, for that matter. Rather, these stories highlight the colossal mismanagement of bad priests and bishops as well as a total lack of accountability to the society at large. Until this is recognized by the church officials, true reform remains a distant hope.

Top Catholic Church Official Calls for Statute of Limitations Repeal

The Holy See’s Promoter of Justice at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna has admitted that the Catholic Church’s statute of limitations on clergy sex abuse of minors should be permanently revoked. Scicluna noted that “the limit of ten years is not enough in this kind of case, in which it would be better to return to the earlier system of delicta graviora [more serious offenses] not being subject to the statute of limitations.”
As a member of the Pope’s former dicastery, Scicluna seems to acknowledge the severity of the abuse issue. This is an important revelation in that this priest holds an important position in the church and his remarks were not a mere “slip of the tongue”.
If the Catholic Church (at least some top offiicals) are willing to capitulate and say the statute of limitations should be abolished, why can’t we get Catholic bishops to do the same with civil and criminal statute of limitations? If it’s a matter of delicta graviora, then why aren’t the Catholic bishops standing with survivors of Catholic priest abuse?

Avandia Supporters Had Financial Ties to Drug Companies

Soon after Avandia was linked with an increased risk of heart attacks, a team of researchers at the Mayo Clinic reviewed more than 200 scientific studies that were favorable to Avandia and found that 94% of those authors had financial ties to the drug companies, including GlaxoSmithKline. Nearly half of those had monetary arrangements with pharmaceutical companies that posed a serious conflict of interest.
According to Reuters, “It was almost three to four times more likely that somebody who had a relationship with a pharmaceutical company had a favorable opinion about the medication,” Dr Victor Montori of the Mayo Clinic, whose study appears in the British Medical Journal, said in a telephone interview.”
This is precisely why the manner in which these scientific studies are done has to be reformed. If the author of a so-called scientific study is being remunerated by a drug company, the author has a financial interest in writing favorably on behalf of his client. That’s not objective science.
What is perhaps more troubling in the Reuters article is that 25% of those who did have financial ties with the drug companies failed to disclose such a relationship.
The FDA plans to hold a meeting sometime in July to discuss the risks and benefits of the drug Avandia. The meeting will take place after two US senators released a report from FDA safety officials who recommended removing Avandia from the marketplace.

New Revelations Will Rock the Pope

The other shoe just dropped. After a week of harsh denunciations and howls of protest, a German psychiatrist has come forward to state that senior officials in the Archdiocese of Munich ignored repeated warnings about a sexually abusive priest in the Archdiocese of Munich. Dr. Werner Huth gave explicit warnings in oral and written form, so it’s going to be difficult for the Pontiff to deny his most senior officials weren’t warned.
“I said, ‘For God’s sake, he desperately has to be kept away from working with children,’ ” the psychiatrist, Dr. Werner Huth, said in a telephone interview from Munich. “I was very unhappy about the entire story.”
This is bad, very bad for the 82 year old German Pope. It amounts to the cover-up of the cover-up. I find it hard to imagine how those Vatican insiders could’ve made such a full throated defense of the Pope as Archbishop of Munich while at the same time knowing full well the German psychiatrist was lurking in the shadows waiting to tell the truth about the sexually abusive priest. The Vatican’s defensive posture all but assured the psychiatrist would eventually come forward to tell his side of the story. While the psychiatrist stated he hadn’t had any direct communication with Ratzinger, the priest was allowed to begin parish work almost immediately after commencing therapy in Munich, in spite of the psychiatrist’s warnings. According to the NY Times, “In 1980, after abuse complaints from parents in Essen that the priest did not deny, Archbishop Ratzinger approved a decision to move the priest to Munich for therapy.
Despite the psychiatrist’s warnings, Father Hullermann was allowed to return to parish work almost immediately after his therapy began, interacting with children as well as adults. Less than five years later, he was accused of molesting other boys, and in 1986 he was convicted of sexual abuse in Bavaria.”
In his telephone interview, Dr. Huth noted that he set three conditions upon which the priest could work in ministry: “that he stay away from young people and alcohol and be supervised by another priest at all times.”
Unlike last week when news first broke about the Pope’s involvement with a sexually abusive priest, there has been no Vatican comment, no comment from the former Vicar General, and no reaction from the Pope himself. After all, there’s not much to say this time.

Reglan Making News Again

A cursory search of the web for articles or news stories this past week has uncovered some strange stories about the FDA’s issuance of a black box warning for the drug. It’s odd because that occurred over a year ago. This isn’t new news. Reglan was issued a black box warning for its association with tardive dyskinesia, a serious and permanent neurological disorder. Reglan is to be used for no more than three months. Longer use of the drug increases the risk of acquiring tardive dyskinesia.
Besides the odd stories about the black box warning, there are other stories about Reglan use in the infant population. Babies may have underdeveloped gastrointestinal tracts and may experience symptoms similar to gastroesophageal reflux disease. Babies experiencing such symptoms are often treated with Reglan even though the drug is not approved for infant use and studies have not determined if babies are being subjected to the risk of developing tardive dyskinesia. It’s not known how Reglan may affect infants. What we do know is that the neurological disorder linked to prolonged use of Reglan in adults is serious and permanent. If the risk is similar for infants, Reglan is simply to dangerous to use with infants.