Is Pope Complicit in Cover-Up?

Accusations that Pope Complicit in Abuse Cover-Up Fall Flat
By James Tillman
March 29, 2010 ( – Since the New York Times attempted to connect Pope Benedict XVI with the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, pundits have not let up on the pressure on the pontiff.

Christopher Hitchens wrote recently that Benedict XVI’s "whole career has the stench of evil," joining a host of pundits that have attacked him over the abuse crisis, and even called for his resignation.  Yet according to defenders of the pope, the noise caused by the three primary claims brought against Benedict is exceeded only by the paucity of the evidence for them.
The first claim, as stated by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, is that then-Cardinal Ratzinger "ignored repeated warnings and looked away in the case of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys."
According to renowned commentator and Catholic priest Fr. Raymond D. de Souza, however, the article that made these claims is "unsupported by its own documentation."
Father Lawrence C. Murphy left St. John’s School for the Deaf in the Milwaukee Archdiocese in 1974, after accusations of sexual abuse.  He was granted a "temporary sick leave" and moved by Archbishop William E. Counsins to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin.  In 1993, then-Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee oversaw an investigation in which Fr. Murphy admitted to sexual contact with nineteen boys.  He did not write to Cardinal Ratzinger, however, until 1996.
"Under canon law at the time," writes Fr. de Souza, "the principal responsibility for sexual-abuse cases lay with the local bishop. Archbishop Weakland had from 1977 onwards the responsibility of administering penalties to Father Murphy. He did nothing until 1996."
"It was at that point that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office became involved, and it subsequently did nothing to impede the local process."
Archbishop Weakland himself was, as de Souza writes, “widely known for mishandling sexual-abuse cases during his tenure, and guilty of using $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to pay hush money to a former homosexual lover who was blackmailing him.”
Despite its late start, preparation for Fr. Murphy’s trial continued through 1997. In January of 1998 Fr. Murphy wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger, asking that, in light of his poor health and recent stroke, he be permitted to end his days in peace.  Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, suggested that the Bishop of Superior drop the judicial proceeding in favor of more pastoral measures, but his suggestion was rejected.
In August of 1998 the Archdiocese of Milwaukee ruled that it would abate the judicial process in favor of administrative action.  The next month Father Murphy died.
"To repeat," writes Fr. de Souza, "the charge that Cardinal Ratzinger did anything wrong is unsupported by the documentation on which the story was based.
"He does not appear in the record as taking any decision. His office, in the person of his deputy, Archbishop Bertone, agreed that there should be full canonical trial. When it became apparent that Father Murphy was in failing health, Archbishop Bertone suggested more expeditious means of removing him from any ministry."
"The New York Times flatly got the story wrong, according to its own evidence. Readers may want to speculate on why."
The second major charge brought against the Pope involves Fr. Peter Hullerman from the German Diocese of Essen, who was accused of abusing boys in 1979.  According to Christopher Hitchens, however, the "cleric was transferred from Essen to Munich for ‘therapy’ by a decision of then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, and assurances were given that he would no longer have children in his care."  Tragically, Father Hullerman was later returned to the ministry and continued to abuse boys.
Debate has swirled over whether Archbishop Ratzinger knew that Father Hullerman was to be reassigned to pastoral work.
"It is certain that Archbishop Ratzinger knew that Hullerman had sexually assaulted children in Essen and that he was living in Church premises while undergoing therapy in Munich," writes Sean Murphy on the Catholic Education Resource Center website.  "This would not have been out of order, since, at the time, it was believed that therapy could be effective in curing sex offenders."
But it was the Vicar-General of the Munich Archdiocese, Mgr. Gerhard Gruber, and not Cardinal Ratzinger, who permitted Father Hullerman to return to pastoral work.  Mgr. Gerhard Gruber has stated that the pope was not aware of his decision. 
The Vatican has confirmed this statement, saying that "the then archbishop [Ratzinger] had no knowledge of the decision to reassign Father H[ullerman] to pastoral activities in a parish."
"The then vicar general, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, has assumed full responsibility for his own erroneous decision to reassign Father H[ullerman] to pastoral activity."
Some have argued that Archbishop Ratzinger must have been informed of the decision because he was close-copied on a memo informing him of the decision.  Mgr. Gruber, however, has said that because the diocese was so large at the time, having many hundreds of priests and thousands of religious, Archbishop Ratzinger left many decisions to lower-level officials; there is no clear evidence to show he would have read the memo.
"The cardinal could not deal with everything,” Mgr. Gruber said.
The third accusation, as raised by Hitchens, is that as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger forbade "the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests."
"Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden," Hitchens states. "Charges were to be investigated ‘in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone … is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.’"
Yet the quotation Hitchens offers is not even from the May 2001 letter from the CDF, but rather from a 1962 directive, Crimen Sollicitationis.  This document, as Sean Murphy writes, was so far from demanding the concealment of such crimes that it imposed "the automatic excommunication of anyone who knowingly failed to do so."
Many Catholic leaders and defenders of the pope have pointed out the irony that the accusations of such as Hitchens and the Times are directed against the man who has perhaps done more than anyone else to combat sexual abuse in the Church.
"No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI," said Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York last Sunday.
"The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo."
George Weigel wrote similarly. “The Times’ descent into tabloid sourcing and innuendo was …  offensive because of recent hard news developments that underscore Pope Benedict’s determination to root out what he once described as the ‘filth’ in the Church,” he said.
“It ought not be beyond the capacity of other media outlets to understand that much of the Times’ recent reporting on the Church has been gravely distorted, and to treat it accordingly. “
Setting the record straight in the case of abusive Milwaukee priest Father Lawrence Murphy
Then-presiding judge for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee gives first-person account of church trial
To provide context to this article, I was the Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1995-2003. During those years, I presided over four canonical criminal cases, one of which involved Father Lawrence Murphy. Two of the four men died during the process. God alone will judge these men.
To put some parameters on the following remarks, I am writing this article with the express knowledge and consent of Archbishop Roger Schwietz, OMI, the Archbishop of Anchorage, where I currently serve. Archbishop Schwietz is also the publisher of the Catholic Anchor newspaper.
I will limit my comments, because of judicial oaths I have taken as a canon lawyer and as an ecclesiastical judge. However, since my name and comments in the matter of the Father Murphy case have been liberally and often inaccurately quoted in the New York Times and in more than 100 other newspapers and on-line periodicals, I feel a freedom to tell part of the story of Father Murphy’s trial from ground zero.
As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing out of a sense of duty to the truth.
 The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself.
My intent in the following paragraphs is to accomplish the following:
To tell the back-story of what actually happened in the Father Murphy case on the local level;
To outline the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New York Times and other media outlets;
To assert that Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope or bishop in history to rid the Catholic Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and provide for those who have been injured;
To set the record straight with regards to the efforts made by the church to heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual misconduct. The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history.
Before proceeding, it is important to point out the scourge that child sexual abuse has been — not only for the church but for society as well. Few actions can distort a child’s life more than sexual abuse. It is a form of emotional and spiritual homicide and it starts a trajectory toward a skewed sense of sexuality. When committed by a person in authority, it creates a distrust of almost anyone, anywhere.
As a volunteer prison chaplain in Alaska, I have found a corollary between those who have been incarcerated for child sexual abuse and the priests who have committed such grievous actions. They tend to be very smart and manipulative. They tend to be well liked and charming. They tend to have one aim in life — to satisfy their hunger. Most are highly narcissistic and do not see the harm that they have caused. They view the children they have abused not as people but as objects. They rarely show remorse and moreover, sometimes portray themselves as the victims. They are, in short, dangerous people and should never be trusted again. Most will recommit their crimes if given a chance.
As for the numerous reports about the case of Father Murphy, the back-story has not been reported as of yet.
In 1996, I was introduced to the story of Father Murphy, formerly the principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. It had been common knowledge for decades that during Father Murphy’s tenure at the school (1950-1974) there had been a scandal at St. John’s involving him and some deaf children. The details, however, were sketchy at best.
Courageous advocacy on behalf of the victims (and often their wives), led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to revisit the matter in 1996. In internal discussions of the curia for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, it became obvious that we needed to take strong and swift action with regard to the wrongs of several decades ago. With the consent of then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, we began an investigation into the allegations of child sexual abuse as well as the violation of the crime of solicitation within the confessional by Father Murphy.
We proceeded to start a trial against Father Murphy. I was the presiding judge in this matter and informed Father Murphy that criminal charges were going to be levied against him with regard to child sexual abuse and solicitation in the confessional.
In my interactions with Father Murphy, I got the impression I was dealing with a man who simply did not get it. He was defensive and threatening.
Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.
I also met with a community board of deaf Catholics. They insisted that Father Murphy should be removed from the priesthood and highly important to them was their request that he be buried not as a priest but as a layperson. I indicated that a judge, I could not guarantee the first request and could only make a recommendation to the latter request.
In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition at the chancery in Milwaukee. I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could travel not more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home
With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”
The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.
Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.
Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.
Third, the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court. When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.
Fourth, Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.
Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children. There have been very few cases of recent sexual abuse of children by clergy during the last decade or more.
Catholic dioceses all across the country have taken extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. As one example, which is by no means unique, is in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently work. Here, virtually every public bathroom in parishes has a sign asking if a person has been abuse by anyone in the church. A phone number is given to report the abuse and almost all church workers in the archdiocese are required to take yearly formation sessions in safe environment classes. I am not sure what more the church can do.
To conclude, the events during the 1960’s and 1970’s of the sexual abuse of minors and solicitation in the confessional by Father Lawrence Murphy are unmitigated and gruesome crimes. On behalf of the church, I am deeply sorry and ashamed for the wrongs that have been done by my brother priests but realize my sorrow is probably of little importance 40 years after the fact. The only thing that we can do at this time is to learn the truth, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever is humanly possible to heal the wounds. The rest, I am grateful, is in God’s hands.
Father Thomas T. Brundage, JCL
Editor’s note: Father Brundage can be contacted at or by phone at (907) 745-3229 X 11.
If you have been reading in the news about the unjust and deceitful attacks on Pope Benedict this article will clarify the truth.
On Tuesday, March 30, Catholic League President Bill Donohue will appear on CNN’s
“Larry King Live” to discuss the pope and his handling of recent allegations.
The show airs at 9 pm ET. 
Catholic League president Bill Donohue criticizes an op-ed article and a news story in the New York Times about Pope Benedict XVI’s role in the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy:
In yesterday’s Times, columnist Maureen Dowd said that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the pope, "ignored repeated warnings and looked away in the case of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys." Wrong. Her own newspaper said it has no evidence that he even knew of letters that reached his office in 1996 about this matter.
Today’s edition of the Times has a news story which says that Ratzinger "did not defrock a priest who molested scores of deaf boys in the United States, despite warnings by American bishops about the danger of failure to act, according to church files." Wrong. Besides the fact that there is no evidence he even knew of the case, his office actually lifted the statute of limitations—the abuse took place in the 50s and 60s—and began an investigation. Murphy died while the inquiry was proceeding.
It is one thing for pundits to play fast and loose and ignore the evidence. It is doubly distressing when those who write for the New York Times do so. While this may come as a shocker to the Times, no priest can be defrocked until he is found guilty. If the inquiry was on-going when Murphy died, there is no way he could have been defrocked.
This is particularly disgusting given that the Times is ever so sensitive about the civil liberties rights of accused jihadists.
Contact NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt:
Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on the pope’s critics:
Seldom have I seen such delirium over an innocent man, namely Pope Benedict XVI. Christopher Hitchens, the rabid atheist, wants to know why the European Union is allowing the pope to travel freely. Perhaps he wants the pope handcuffed at the Vatican and brought to the guillotine. Margery Eagan of the Boston Herald, another big fan of the Catholic Church, says, "The Pope should resign." One looks in vain for a single sentence that implicates his guilt in anything. Then we have the Washington Post indicting priests by painting all of them as child abusers in a cartoon. There are many other examples of this kind of hysteria.
As indicated in our New York Times op-ed page ad today, the pope is innocent. Indeed, he is being framed. No one has any evidence that he even knew of the case of Father Lawrence Murphy. Indeed, his office didn’t find out until 1996 and then it did the right thing by summoning an investigation (it could have simply dropped an inquiry given that the statute of limitations had run out). No matter, the pope’s harshest critics are blaming him for not defrocking a man whom he may never have heard of, and in any event was entitled to a presumption of innocence. Or was he? There are not just a few who would deny civil liberties protections to priests.
It is a sad day when al-Qaeda suspects are afforded more rights than priests. That this kind of intellectual thuggery should emanate from those who fancy themselves tolerant and fair-minded makes the sham all the more despicable.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue accuses MSNBC of libeling Pope Benedict XVI:
Go to the home page of MSNBC and click on "World News." From there click on "Americas." Next click on the article, "Losing Their Religion? Catholicism in Turmoil." Scroll down and in the "Click for Related Content" section there is an article entitled, "Pope Describes Touching Boys: I Went Too Far." Clicking on this piece takes the reader to an article about a homosexual German priest who had sex with males in the 1980s. It says absolutely nothing about the pope. Yet MSNBC paints Pope Benedict XVI as a child molester in the tease to the article.
A retraction, and a sincere apology, are in order. They should also investigate how this happened and who is responsible.
Contact NBC news president Steve Capus:

March 30, 2010
NBC apologized today for an article on MSNBC’s website entitled, “Pope Describes Touching Boys: I Went Too Far.” The article that readers accessed after clicking on it actually had nothing to do with the pope.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue accepted the apology today:
NBC says the attributed quote was erroneous and they have corrected the error. An apology was also extended. The apology is accepted. We hope that whoever was responsible for this outrageous post is questioned about it and that appropriate measures are taken. We look forward to hearing the outcome.


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