Thursday, March 25, 2010

Times: "Warned... Vatican Failed"

Bringing to light a mid-1990s case from Wisconsin involving a cleric suspected of abusing as many as 200 deaf boys over prior decades, the lead headline of today's New York Times is loaded: "Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest."

In what could now be viewed as a preemptory response, Gotham's archbishop -- who led the Milwaukee church from 2002-08 -- reacted earlier this week to the recent spate of headlines aiming to link Pope Benedict to the now-global revelations of sexual abuse by clergy and serial mishandling of allegations by church officials, saying Tuesday on his blog that (emphases original) "as we now sadly realize, nobody, nowhere, no time, no way, no how knew the extent, depth, or horror of this scourge, nor how to adequately address it," but that "just as the Catholic Church may have been a bleak example of how not to respond to this tragedy in the past, the Church is now a model of what to do."

SVILUPPO: In an unprecedented move, this morning's Bollettino of the Holy See Press Office included the entire response it gave the Times yesterday on being asked for comment on the story.

Here's the statement, in full:

The following is the full text of the statement given to the New York Times on March 24, 2010:

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.
While the Times' reporting gives the story a new prominence, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had produced a two-part series on Murphy and his victims in 2006.