Thursday, April 1, 2010

NY Daily News: (Not read onthe Upper E or W Side or in the Village): Fairness for the Pope: Pontiff not at fault in Wisconsin pedophile priest case


It has become an increasingly prevailing belief that as a cardinal, before he ascended to the papacy, Pope Benedict enabled a pedophile priest to do enormous harm. This is false.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd took the accusations against the Pope, whose given name is Joseph Ratzinger, to their most extreme. She wrote:

"Now we learn the sickening news that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, nicknamed 'God's Rottweiler' when he was the church's enforcer on matters of faith and sin, 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."

Again, and with certainty: This is false.

There is much to criticize in the Catholic Church's abysmal failure for decades to take action against priests who engaged in sexual abuse. That history tends to lend credence to reports that the hierarchy has either turned a blind eye or engaged in coverups.

Maybe even the Pope.

While the Murphy case does exemplify the church at its worst, the grievous sins in this matter cannot be laid to Pope Benedict.

For 24 years starting in 1950, Murphy served as a priest at a school for deaf boys in Milwaukee. He was first accused of molesting students in the 1950s, and he was trailed by similar accounts until the church forced him onto "temporary sick leave." His superiors did not report Murphy to the police or take further internal action.

Those crimes, dating back half a century, took place decades before Ratzinger rose to high church positions in Europe. He could not have ignored repeated warnings, nor could he have looked away. He not on the scene at all.

Murphy next surfaces in 1996, 22 years after his last reported offense. Amid the scandals that swamped the church, some of Murphy's victims pressed the archbishop of Milwaukee to take action. He wrote to Ratzinger, who had by then risen to head the Vatican's Congregation for the Defense of the Faith.

The letter, one of only two in the files bearing Ratzinger's name, asked for advice on how to proceed. Ratzinger did not respond. The archbishop brought charges nonetheless.

Ratzinger's deputy then approved bringing charges that could lead to defrocking Murphy. And the Vatican kept the case alive by waiving its own internal statute of limitations on pressing cases against priests.

In June, 1998, Murphy wrote to Ratzinger, citing the fact that he had suffered strokes and asking to live out his days. Ratzinger's deputy suggested letting Murphy accept banishment, a step short of full defrocking, if he admitted guilt and expressed remorse. The Wisconsin bishop who had taken the case refused.

In August 1998, two weeks before Murphy's impending death, the archbishop of Milwaukee reported to Rome that he had suspended the trial and would try to get letters of apology from Murphy. The suspension order was never conveyed to the priest that headed the trial panel. He says he would have fought such a command and that Murphy died while charges were still pending.

What exactly did then-Cardinal Ratzinger do wrong? His office approved the trial and waived the statue of limitations. Those are not the makings of a coverup.

At the same time, it's fair game to debate whether his office should have considered for a moment a plea deal, even on the verge of Murphy's death. But that's a far cry from vilifying Benedict as a man who took no action in the face of Murphy's evil or many years later tried to paper it over. NY Daily News

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