NYT’s long paper trail on Rome, Ratzinger and abusive priest

March 25, 2010
abuse protest

Protesters hold pictures of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Pope Benedict XVI at demonstration against child sexual abuse at the Vatican 25 March 2010/Alessandro Bianchi

The New York Times has unearthed a startling paper trail of 25 letters and memos documenting the way a U.S. priest known to have abused up to 200 deaf boys from about 1952 to 1974 was quietly moved to another diocese and the Vatican resisted attempts to defrock him. Their story on the case of Rev. Lawrence Murphy is here, the paper trail here and our story on the Vatican reaction here. Here’s another story from our Rome bureau on victims demanding that Benedict open all Vatican files on sex abuse cases and defrock all predator priests.

The official Vatican reaction (here in English) is interesting for what it doesn’t say. This is a response to a query from the Times about their story and we don’t know what the questions were. The answers, though, are very narrowly focused. Nowhere is there any reference to the most interesting of the many revelations in the paper trail, i.e. that Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger heading the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), got at least one letter about this case from the priest’s bishop but apparently didn’t answer it.

His CDF deputy Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, now the Cardinal Secretary of State (so once again Benedict’s deputy), first advised a secret trial for Murphy but later relented after the priest wrote directly to Ratzinger asking for clemency because he was old, ill and had already repented for his sins.

abuse pope

Pope Benedict in St. Peter Square at the Vatican 24 March 2010/Tony Gentile

The Times got these letters from two lawyers representing five abuse victims suing the Milwaukee archdiocese. Laurie Goodstein, the NYT religion correspondent who wrote the story,  told WNYC radio this morning that there must be many more such documents out there given the number of suits filed in the U.S. against predator priests.

These cases are very complicated and nobody has found a “smoking gun” cover-up document signed by Cardinal Ratzinger — at least not yet. But if today’s NYT scoop is anything to go by, we can probably expect more documents like this that jack up the pressure on bishops and ultimately on Benedict himself.

How much longer can this go on? Do you think Benedict has to take radical measures to deal with this? If so, which ones?

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Dear Tom,
As ever, sterling work. I am so glad that you are ‘on the case.’ Thank you.
Tom, any idea why (or even whether) the US civil authorities dropped the case?
This is getting bad.
He is getting painted into a corner. I have vision of a NEW Prisoner of the Vatican a la Pius IX.
Given that he was from Chile and a Catholic, the Vatican, indubitably remembers, with a shudder, what Britain and Spain did to Augusto Pinochet — despite him having been a head of state.
My concern for the pope is more prosaic. CREDIBILITY.
For 25 years I have lived by this creed and it has done me well:
“If you lose all your wealth, you have lost nothing;
if you lose your health, you have lost something, however,
IF you lose your CREDIBILITY you have lost everything.”
I have a feeling, but I could be wrong, that the pope is losing credibility if he hasn’t already lost it.
Most don’t fully understand the very, very narrow scope of papal fallibility, but most appreciate what credibility is all about.
Though I doubt whether he will resign, he is now a ‘lame duck’ pope — and nobody knows when his term ends.
In case your readers are interested in who was the last pope to abdicate, they can check:
http://www.popes-and-papacy.com/popes_an d_the_papacy/2010/03/last-pope-to-abdica te-ie-resign-last-cardinal-to-resign-pro perly.html
Thanks Tom. Please keep up the good. You are at the epicenter and have the unique background, objectivity and knowledge to do it justice.
Anura Guruge

Posted by aguruge | Report as abusive

Anura, there was no indication why that investigation was dropped in 1974. Weakland mentions it in his 1996 letter to Ratzinger that you can find on the NYT website (lined above).

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

@after the priest wrote directly to Ratzinger asking for clemency because he was OLD, ILL and had ALREADY REPENTED FOR HIS SINS.

This is what we call exempting circumstance in Criminal Law to any criminal. Would we deny this to a priest just because he is a Catholic Priest?

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