There’s no doubt many people living in the United States, much less Milwaukee, haven’t heard, read or seen the treatment that the media has recently given to the sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church. By no means were either of the two major cases recent, but the press jumped on fresh circulation of information about the issue, and took advantage to exploit the issue to sensationalist levels. Proof of this is quite evident in the widely-read article by the New York Times published March 24th by Laurie Goodstein, in which then-Cardinal Ratzinger is bashed for “covering-up” the scandal of Father Lawrence Murphy. Goodstein bases her strongly anti-Catholic article on two sources, both having a conflict of interest in the circumstances of the article. Her primary source was lawyers, including Jeffrey Anderson, who have cases against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as well as the Holy See, and have financial agendas in the matter. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, retired archbishop of Milwaukee, was the second source. Weakland is quite discredited, as he is publicly known for using large funds (approximately $450,000) from the archdiocese to pay hush money to a former homosexual partner, as well as poor handling (or lack thereof) of other sexual abuse occurring in schools. The above mentioned were certainly not unbiased sources, and which can only result in biased reporting.
The sexual abuse that Murphy was responsible for occurred from July 1, 1963 to May 18, 1974 at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin. In the 1970s, a few victims came forward to report the abuse to civil authorities. The matter was investigated by Milwaukee police, then St. Francis local authorities, and no resulting charges were filed. Around the same time, the abuse was reported to Archbishop of Milwaukee William Cousins, Murphy was removed from St. John’s School in May, and by September had moved to the Diocese of Superior. It wasn’t until 1995 that successor Archbishop Weakland received letters of accusation, and brought the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which Ratzinger headed. The CDF was informed since the accusations involved a breach of trust in the confessional, as soliciting in the confessional is against canon law, and spoken about in the Vatican document Crimen Sollicitationis (1962).The document never prohibited reporting abuse crimes.
In the Murphy case, it is important to note that the canonical trial was not begun due to circumstances. The case was reported nearly two decades after the abuse had occurred, and at the time Weakland contacted the CDF regarding the matter, Murphy was in poor health and died. In the time before his death, Murphy asked for exemption from the case being heard, and was denied. This evidence in no way suggests that Cardinal Ratzinger was “trying to hide” the abuse.
Although the goal is to minimize the possibility of future sexual abuse, the risk can never be totally eliminated. The Church, like many other organizations, is made of human members. Pope Benedict, Archbishop Listecki, Archbishop Dolan, and many, many other priests and bishops have expressed their heartfelt condolences and support to the victims of this grave crime of sexual abuse. It is no surprise that the infidelity of other priests embarrasses and scandalizes those priests who are faithful to their vocation, as well as lay Catholics. These events are by no means taken lightly by the clergy of the Catholic Church. Just the other day, Pope Benedict met with victims of abuse in Malta. One of the survivors remarked that he “admired the pope for his courage in meeting us. He was embarrassed by the failings of others.” As a result, many precautions have been taken and preventative measures put in place for those who work with the youth in conjunction with the Catholic Church.
As our own Archbishop Listecki said during the Chrism Mass, “The Holy Father does not need me to defend him or his decisions. I believe, and history will confirm, that his actions in responding to this crisiscame swiftly and decisively and his compassionate response to victims/survivors, speak for themselves.” Instead of being a supposed ‘enabler’ and turning a blind eye to abuse within the Church, our Holy Father has been an instrument leading the Church out of crisis. And regardless of the media, he will continue to do so.
by Joanna Parkes
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