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BY Jimmy Akin
I’d like to thank The Anchoress and Andrew Sullivan for linking my previous piece on Cardinal Ratzinger and the Murphy case, and for the kind things they said about it.
There is more to say about the story. Quite a bit, actually. In particular, I’ll be responding to Sullivan, and I’ll be able to report on the German story, but first there are some additional facts to get on the table regarding the Wisconsin one.
Let’s start with a piece by Fr. Thomas Brundage (pictured), who writes:
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.
Interesting that Brundage says two of the four men died during the process. Contrary to what you would think from press reports, Murphy appears to be one of the two, given what shortly will become clear.
In any event, a 50% death rate seems to indicate aggressive prosecution of men even when they are quite old or in ill health. So already a picture is forming of Brundage as presiding over a vigorous court.
He has not been pleased with the New York Times’ (and other outlets’) reportage on the Murphy case:
As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing from 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.
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.
“Courageous advocacy” suggests that there was a struggle requiring courage to get the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to act, presumably this involved the argument that Fr. Murphy’s crimes were committed long ago and that he was no longer in the diocese. Nevertheless . . .
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.
So far so good, but note this:
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.
Courageous advocacy . . . discussions in the curia regarding swift and strong action . . . “consent” of Weakland. Fr. Brundage is by no means saying this, and I could be misreading, but it sounds as if the primary momentum for prosecution originated in Weakland’s curia rather than with Weakland himself.
That would make sense given that Weakland himself had spent nearly half a million dollars in diocesan funds as hush money to keep a former homosexual lover from suing him for sexual abuse from around 1980.
There might be reasons he wouldn’t want to go prying into decades-old priestly sex cases. Who knows what could get unearthed in the process?
But the intensity of Murphy’s victims and the firmness of the curia was such that . . .
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.
It would be interesting to learn where that was.
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.
Yeah. What is it with the mainstream media? How did they get so arrogant, or sloppy, or both?
Now here comes a very interesting point, but first let’s go back to the NYT documentation for a moment.
You will recall that there was a meeting at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that was presided over by (now Cardinal) Bertone, who did not tell Weakland, Sklba, and Fliss (the American bishops involved in the case) that they couldn’t proceed with the case but who pointed out some difficulties and made some recommendations. (More on that in a new post soon. Very interesting stuff coming up on that meeting.)
When they got back home, Weakland sent a letter to Bertone saying that he (Weakland) had decided to abate the proceedings against Fr. Murphy, and that he had instructed Brundage to do so.
But Brundage says he never got the message:
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.
So this is why Murphy was one of two defendants who apparently died during a case that Brundage was overseeing.
Weakland may have decided to abate the proceedings, but Brundage didn’t get the message before Murphy died. Furthermore . . .
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.
So Brundage was thoroughly committed to seeing this thing through. Again, aggressive judge; passive Weakland.
Now what does Brundage have to say about Cardinal Ratzinger’s role in all this?
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.
As we saw in the previous post.
Also, there’s this note on the timeliness of the CDF’s reply to Weakland, which took nine months. I didn’t mention it in my previous post, but by Vatican standards, that’s actually rather quick (Americans have a whole different perspective on the use of time and what counts as efficient). Brundage, though, makes the point explicit:
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.
I know the defenses that would be made on behalf of the Rota. Small staff. Huge Church. Also, I’m an American and I want everything done yesterday. Fine. This is a point on which there can be legitimate disagreement. Should Americans have more patience? Maybe. Should the Vatican ramp up its staff to correspond to the size of the Church it’s got? Maybe.
My point is: As open to criticism as the CDF’s initial nine month delay might be, it was actually relatively swift. (And, y’know, things tend to drag in the secular courts, too. They’re not often doing drumheads these days.)
I’ll have more soon, but for now let’s let Fr. Brundage have the last word:
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.