It’s a good thing I’m not making any money off this website, ‘cause otherwise I’d have to kick a few bucks toward Rick Rottman, who beat me to the punch again on this one.
According to the New York Times, Pope Benedict XVI, who was a cardinal at the time, knowingly refused to act when informed that a Catholic priest serving as head of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Wisconsin had sexually assaulted 200 boys from 1950 to 1974. After Benedict (then going by his real name, Joseph Ratzinger) ignored two letters from the Archbishop of Milwaukee about the child molesting priest, his second-in-command at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith initiated procedures to hold an in-house trial to determine whether the priest should be defrocked. Then, after the priest wrote a personal letter to Cardinal Ratzinger, the trial was canceled. The priest, Lawrence Murphy, died twelve years ago. Despite victimizing hundreds of children over several decades, Murphy never faced any discipline from the church. In 1974 he was transferred from his post as head of the St. John’s school to another position in the same archdiocese, where he continued to molest children for the rest of his life.
This is so many kinds of wrong, it’s hard to fathom. This story is like a twelve-layer chocolate cake of wrong with rich, creamy wrong frosting, served with two generous scoops of wrong-flavored ice cream topped with a fresh sprig of wrong on the side.
Most of the attention attracted by this story has focused on Pope Benedict. I get that. He’s the leader of the oldest and largest Christian denomination, not to mention a head of state, and he took no action to protect the most innocent and powerless members of his church against a man who had been raping them since the 1950s. But Ratzinger isn’t the only one at fault in this case. Let’s not forget every other single member of the church who knew about Lawrence Murphy and did absolutely nothing to stop him.
From the New York Times article:
In 1993, with complaints about Father Murphy landing on his desk, Archbishop Weakland hired a social worker specializing in treating sexual offenders to evaluate him. After four days of interviews, the social worker said that Father Murphy had admitted his acts, had probably molested about 200 boys and felt no remorse.
However, it was not until 1996 that Archbishop Weakland tried to have Father Murphy defrocked. The reason, he wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger, was to defuse the anger among the deaf and restore their trust in the church. He wrote that since he had become aware that “solicitation in the confessional might be part of the situation,” the case belonged at the doctrinal office.
Get that? The archbishop in charge of Murphy, with complaints of sexual abuse piling up on his desk, decides to deal with the situation by hiring someone to evaluate him. After that social worker interviews him and reports back to Archbishop Weakland that Murphy is a pathological child molester who has been assaulting young boys for forty years or more, and isn’t sorry, and doesn’t even think he’s done anything wrong, Weakland sits on this information for three years. And when he finally decides to take action (presumably after receiving even more complaints from even more victims), he writes a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger to ask if maybe they should fire this guy at some point.
Why didn’t he call the cops?
Not receiving a response from Ratzinger, a few months later Weakland wrote to another Vatican official, warning that lawsuits were imminent if somebody didn’t do something about Lawrence Murphy.
Why didn’t he call the cops?
Finally, over a year after mailing that second letter, Weakland had a meeting at the Vatican with Ratzinger’s lieutenant, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, where he tried and failed to have Murphy defrocked. Weakland told the New York Times, “The evidence was so complete, and so extensive that I thought [Murphy] should be reduced to the lay state, and also that that would bring a certain amount of peace in the deaf community.”
WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T HE CALL THE COPS?!?
By his own description, the evidence against Murphy was “complete” and “extensive.” Murphy had confessed his crimes to a social worker years ago. Why is this archbishop spending four years dicking around with the Vatican, trying to get Murphy defrocked, when he should be sitting in prison, or at least in some mental health facility where he can’t harm anyone else? Shit, when it became obvious that Weakland wasn’t going to tell anyone, why didn’t the social worker call the cops? When Ratzinger and Bertone received Weakland’s letters, why didn’t they call the cops, then fire Weakland’s stupid ass for not calling them first? Is it too much to ask that officers of the most powerful church on the planet Earth behave like decent human beings?
Okay, stupid question. But what about sensible human beings interested in protecting their interests and those of the Vatican? The New York Times story says
The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.
Know what would have gone a long way toward protecting the church from scandal — I mean, really made them look good in this situation? Telling the cops about the serial child rapist who worked for them.
Murphy’s victims did take their accusations to the civil authorities, but the police never spent much time investigating them. I bet I know something that would have compelled the cops to look at Murphy a little harder: Murphy’s boss, the archbishop, and his boss, the cardinal, sharing the huge stack of documents they had collected over the last few decades that proved Murphy was an incorrigible child molester.
When the Vatican does decide to discipline one of its priests (and what do you have to be accused of doing, I wonder, to warrant such discipline, when dozens and dozens of charges of child sex abuse are apparently insufficient), it does it in the form of a closed, secret trial. When our flawed, morally inferior, man-made justice system decides to discipline someone, we do it in the form of an open, public trial by a jury of the peers of the accused. Even if Murphy had been convicted in a secret Vatican trial, the worst thing that could have happened to him was losing his job as a priest. When someone is convicted of raping children in our criminal courts, they get sent someplace where they can’t continue to rape people.
Tell me how the church is a source of morality, again. I have forgotten.