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?