Vatican City (AsiaNews) - We publish today’s editorial from the L'Osservatore Romano about an article in the New York Times (dated 24/3/2010) on the case of a paedophile priest, Fr Lawrence Murphy, who sexually abused children in an institution for the deaf in the period 1950-1974. The U.S. based newspaper claims that the Vatican and Benedict XVI himself - when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - tried to cover the case up without taking action to dismiss the priest from the clerical state. Below, also the statement that Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, sent the New York Times, after the publication of the article concerned.
Transparency, firmness and severity in shedding light on several cases of sexual abuse by priests and religious: these are the criteria that Benedict XVI is indicating, with constancy and serenity, to the entire Church. A work method - consistent with his personal history and more than twenty years of experience as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – that is feared by those who apparently do not want the truth to be asserted but who would prefer to exploit, without any foundation in fact, horrible episodes and painful events in some cases dating back to decades ago. The most recent example of this is seen in an article published today by the U.S. newspaper “The New York Times”, along with a commentary about the serious case of the priest Lawrence C. Murphy, responsible for abuses committed on hearing-impaired children in a Catholic institution, where he worked from 1950 to 1974.
According to the reconstruction made in the article, based on the wide documentation provided by the lawyers of some of the victims, the reports concerning the conduct of the priests were only sent in July 1996 by the then Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert G. Weakland to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – of which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was prefect and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary - in order to obtain information on the proper canonical procedure to be followed. The request was not in fact referring to allegations of sexual abuse, but to the violation of the sacrament of penance, perpetrated by soliciting in the confessional, which occurs where a priest urges the penitent to commit a sin against the sixth commandment (canon 1387) .
It is important to note - as stated by the Director of the Holy See Press Office - which the canonical question presented to the congregation was in no way connected to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy. Moreover the archdiocese had already begun a canonical process against him, as is evident from the abundant documentation published online by the newspaper in New York. The archbishop’s request was responded to by a signed by then-Archbishop Bertone, March 24, 1997, with an indication as to proceed according to lines established in Crimen sollicitationis (1962).
As one can easily deduce from reading the reconstruction made by the New York Times, there was no cover-up in the case of Father Murphy. And this is confirmed by the documentation that accompanies the Article in question, which includes a letter that Father Murphy wrote in 1998 to the then Cardinal Ratzinger asking that the canonical process be interrupted because of his deteriorating health condition. Again the congregation responded, through Archbishop Bertone, calling on the ordinary of Milwaukee to carry out such pastoral measures as provided for under cannon 1341 to make amends for the scandal and ensure the restoration of justice.
The purposes have been indisputably confirmed by the Pope, as evidenced by his recent pastoral letter to Catholics in Ireland. But the prevailing trend in the media is to ignore the facts, preferring instead to force interpretations in order to disseminate an image of the Catholic Church as almost solely responsible for sexual abuse, a view that does not correspond to reality, and which is furthermore in function of the rather obvious and ignoble intention of attacking Benedict XVI and his closest collaborators at all costs.
Statement by the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, concerning the "Murphy case "
The tragic case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, involved particularly vulnerable victims who suffered terribly from what he did. By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him.
During the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy’s victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time; however, according to news reports, that investigation was dropped. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some twenty years later.
It has been suggested that a relationship exists between the application of Crimen sollicitationis and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither Crimen nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities.
In the late 1990s, after over two decades had passed since the abuse had been reported to diocesan officials and the police, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented for the first time with the question of how to treat the Murphy case canonically. The Congregation was informed of the matter because it involved solicitation in the confessional, which is a violation of the Sacrament of Penance. It is important to note that the canonical question presented to the Congregation was unrelated to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy.
In such cases, the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties, but recommends that a judgment be made not excluding even the greatest ecclesiastical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state (cf. Canon 1395, no. 2). In light of the facts that Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health, and that he was living in seclusion and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested that the Archbishop of Milwaukee give consideration to addressing the situation by, for example, restricting Father Murphy’s public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts.
Father Murphy died approximately four months later, without further incident.