- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2010

VATICAN CITY | The Vatican on Thursday strongly defended its decision not to defrock an American priest accused of molesting some 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin and denounced what it called a campaign to smear Pope Benedict XVI and his aides.

Church and Vatican documents showed that in the mid-1990s, two Wisconsin bishops urged the Vatican office led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - now the pope - to let them hold a church trial against the Rev. Lawrence Murphy. The bishops admitted the trial was coming years after the purported abuse, but argued that the deaf community in Milwaukee was demanding justice from the church.

An American protester in Rome on Thursday called the Murphy case an “incontrovertible case of pedophilia.”

Despite the extensive and grave allegations against Murphy, Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that the purported molestation had occurred too long ago and that Murphy - then ailing and elderly - should instead repent and be restricted from celebrating Mass outside of his diocese.

The official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone - now the Vatican’s secretary of state - ordered the church trial halted after Murphy wrote Cardinal Ratzinger a letter saying he was ill, infirm, and “simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood.”

The New York Times broke the story Thursday, adding fuel to a swirling scandal about the way the Vatican in general, and Benedict in particular, have handled reports of priests raping children over the years.

On Thursday, a group of Americans who say they were sexually abused by clerics staged a press conference outside St. Peter’s Square in Rome to denounce Benedict’s handling of the case and gave reporters church and Vatican documents on the case.

Afterward, Italian police detained four Americans for 2 1/2 hours because they didn’t have a permit for the press conference and suggested they get a lawyer in case a judge decided to press charges, the Americans said.

“We’ve spent more time in the police station than Murphy did in his life,” Peter Isely, the Milwaukee-based director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said after his release.

The Vatican issued a strong defense in its handling of the Murphy case. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said there was no cover-up and denounced what it said was a “clear and despicable intention” to strike at Benedict “at any cost.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement noting that the Murphy case had only reached the Vatican in 1996 - some 20 years after the diocese first learned of the allegations. He also said Murphy died two years later - in 1998 - and that there was nothing in the church’s handling of the matter that precluded any civil action from being taken against him.

In fact, police did investigate the allegations at the time and never proceeded with a case, Father Lombardi noted. He said in the statement that a lack of more recent allegations was a factor in the decision not to defrock Murphy and noted that “the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties.”

Murphy worked at the former St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis from 1950 to 1975. His purported victims were not limited to the deaf boys’ school. Donald Marshall, 45, of West Allis, Wisc., said he was abused by Murphy when he was a teenager at the Lincoln Hills School, a juvenile detention center in Irma in northern Wisconsin.

“I haven’t stepped in a church for some 20 years. I lost all faith in the church,” he said in an interview Thursday. “These predators are preying on God’s children. How can they even stand up at the pulpit and preach the word of God?”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide