The Catholic Knight:
Then-presiding judge for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee gives first-person account of church trialArchbishop Timothy Dolan's Palm Sunday Sermon:
By Fr. THOMAS BRUNDAGE, JLC
To provide context to this article, I was the Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1995-2003. During those years, I presided over four canonical criminal cases, one of which involved Father Lawrence Murphy. Two of the four men died during the process. God alone will judge these men.
To put some parameters on the following remarks, I am writing this article with the express knowledge and consent of Archbishop Roger Schwietz, OMI, the Archbishop of Anchorage, where I currently serve. Archbishop Schwietz is also the publisher of the Catholic Anchor newspaper.
I will limit my comments, because of judicial oaths I have taken as a canon lawyer and as an ecclesiastical judge. However, since my name and comments in the matter of the Father Murphy case have been liberally and often inaccurately quoted in the New York Times and in more than 100 other newspapers and on-line periodicals, I feel a freedom to tell part of the story of Father Murphy’s trial from ground zero.
As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing out of a sense of duty to the truth.
The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself.
My intent in the following paragraphs is to accomplish the following:
To tell the back-story of what actually happened in the Father Murphy case on the local level;
To outline the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New York Times and other media outlets;
To assert that Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope or bishop in history to rid the Catholic Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and provide for those who have been injured;
To set the record straight with regards to the efforts made by the church to heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual misconduct. The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history.
Before proceeding, it is important to point out the scourge that child sexual abuse has been — not only for the church but for society as well. Few actions can distort a child’s life more than sexual abuse. It is a form of emotional and spiritual homicide and it starts a trajectory toward a skewed sense of sexuality. When committed by a person in authority, it creates a distrust of almost anyone, anywhere.
As a volunteer prison chaplain in Alaska, I have found a corollary between those who have been incarcerated for child sexual abuse and the priests who have committed such grievous actions. They tend to be very smart and manipulative. They tend to be well liked and charming. They tend to have one aim in life — to satisfy their hunger.
Most are highly narcissistic and do not see the harm that they have caused. They view the children they have abused not as people but as objects. They rarely show remorse and moreover, sometimes portray themselves as the victims. They are, in short, dangerous people and should never be trusted again. Most will recommit their crimes if given a chance.
As for the numerous reports about the case of Father Murphy, the back-story has not been reported as of yet.
In 1996, I was introduced to the story of Father Murphy, formerly the principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. It had been common knowledge for decades that during Father Murphy’s tenure at the school (1950-1974) there had been a scandal at St. John’s involving him and some deaf children. The details, however, were sketchy at best.
Courageous advocacy on behalf of the victims (and often their wives), led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to revisit the matter in 1996. In internal discussions of the curia for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, it became obvious that we needed to take strong and swift action with regard to the wrongs of several decades ago.
With the consent of then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, we began an investigation into the allegations of child sexual abuse as well as the violation of the crime of solicitation within the confessional by Father Murphy.
We proceeded to start a trial against Father Murphy. I was the presiding judge in this matter and informed Father Murphy that criminal charges were going to be levied against him with regard to child sexual abuse and solicitation in the confessional.
In my interactions with Father Murphy, I got the impression I was dealing with a man who simply did not get it. He was defensive and threatening.
Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.
I also met with a community board of deaf Catholics. They insisted that Father Murphy should be removed from the priesthood and highly important to them was their request that he be buried not as a priest but as a layperson. I indicated that a judge, I could not guarantee the first request and could only make a recommendation to the latter request.
In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition at the chancery in Milwaukee. I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could travel not more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home
With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”
The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them.
As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.
Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial.
No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.
Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.
Third, the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court.
When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.
Fourth, Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent.
He has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.
Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children. There have been very few cases of recent sexual abuse of children by clergy during the last decade or more.
Catholic dioceses all across the country have taken extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. As one example, which is by no means unique, is in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently work. Here, virtually every public bathroom in parishes has a sign asking if a person has been abuse by anyone in the church.
A phone number is given to report the abuse and almost all church workers in the archdiocese are required to take yearly formation sessions in safe environment classes. I am not sure what more the church can do.
To conclude, the events during the 1960’s and 1970’s of the sexual abuse of minors and solicitation in the confessional by Father Lawrence Murphy are unmitigated and gruesome crimes. On behalf of the church, I am deeply sorry and ashamed for the wrongs that have been done by my brother priests but realize my sorrow is probably of little importance 40 years after the fact. The only thing that we can do at this time is to learn the truth, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever is humanly possible to heal the wounds. The rest, I am grateful, is in God’s hands.
Father Thomas T. Brundage, JCL
“May I ask your patience a couple of minutes longer in what has already been a lengthy — yet hopefully uplifting — Sunday Mass?A Response to the New York Times-Father De Souza:
“The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year.
“The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.
“Anytime this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.
“What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform, and renewal that the Church so needs.
“Sunday Mass is hardly the place to document the inaccuracy, bias, and hyperbole of such aspersions.
“But, Sunday Mass is indeed the time for Catholics to pray for “ . . . Benedict our Pope.”
“And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.
“No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.
“Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?
“Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing.
“All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled-out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency, and family in the world.
“Sorry to bring this up … but, then again, the Eucharist is the Sunday meal of the spiritual family we call the Church. At Sunday dinner we share both joys and sorrows. The father of our family, il papa, needs our love, support, and prayers.”
The New York Times on March 25 accused Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, of intervening to prevent a priest, Fr. Lawrence Murphy, from facing penalties for cases of sexual abuse of minors.Father Rolheiser via Deacon Kandra:
The story is false. It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.
Before addressing the false substance of the story, the following circumstances are worthy of note:
• The New York Times story had two sources. First, lawyers who currently have a civil suit pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. One of the lawyers, Jeffrey Anderson, also has cases in the United States Supreme Court pending against the Holy See. He has a direct financial interest in the matter being reported.
• The second source was Archbishop Rembert Weakland, retired archbishop of Milwaukee. He is the most discredited and disgraced bishop in the United States, widely known for mishandling sexual-abuse cases during his tenure, and guilty of using $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to pay hush money to a former homosexual lover who was blackmailing him. Archbishop Weakland had responsibility for the Father Murphy case between 1977 and 1998, when Father Murphy died. He has long been embittered that his maladministration of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee earned him the disfavor of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, long before it was revealed that he had used parishioners’ money to pay off his clandestine lover. He is prima facie not a reliable source.
• Laurie Goodstein, the author of the New York Times story, has a recent history with Archbishop Weakland. Last year, upon the release of the disgraced archbishop’s autobiography, she wrote an unusually sympathetic story that buried all the most serious allegations against him (New York Times, May 14, 2009).
• A demonstration took place in Rome on Friday, coinciding with the publication of the New York Times story. One might ask how American activists would happen to be in Rome distributing the very documents referred to that day in the New York Times. The appearance here is one of a coordinated campaign, rather than disinterested reporting.
It’s possible that bad sources could still provide the truth. But compromised sources scream out for greater scrutiny. Instead of greater scrutiny of the original story, however, news editors the world over simply parroted the New York Times piece. Which leads us the more fundamental problem: The story is not true, according to its own documentation.
The New York Times made available on its own website the supporting documentation for the story. In those documents, Cardinal Ratzinger himself does not take any of the decisions that allegedly frustrated the trial. Letters are addressed to him; responses come from his deputy. Even leaving that aside, though, the gravamen of the charge — that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office impeded some investigation — is proven utterly false.
The documents show that the canonical trial or penal process against Father Murphy was never stopped by anyone. In fact, it was only abandoned days before Father Murphy died. Cardinal Ratzinger never took a decision in the case, according to the documents. His deputy, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, suggested, given that Father Murphy was in failing health and a canonical trial is a complicated matter, that more expeditious means be used to remove him from all ministry.
To repeat: The charge that Cardinal Ratzinger did anything wrong is unsupported by the documentation on which the story was based. He does not appear in the record as taking any decision. His office, in the person of his deputy, Archbishop Bertone, agreed that there should be full canonical trial. When it became apparent that Father Murphy was in failing health, Archbishop Bertone suggested more expeditious means of removing him from any ministry.
Furthermore, under canon law at the time, the principal responsibility for sexual-abuse cases lay with the local bishop. Archbishop Weakland had from 1977 onwards the responsibility of administering penalties to Father Murphy. He did nothing until 1996. It was at that point that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office became involved, and it subsequently did nothing to impede the local process.
The New York Times flatly got the story wrong, according to its own evidence. Readers may want to speculate on why.
Here is the relevant timeline, drawn from the documents the New York Times posted on its own website.
15 May 1974
Abuse by Fr. Lawrence Murphy is alleged by a former student at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. In fact, accusations against Father Murphy go back more than a decade.
12 September 1974
Father Murphy is granted an official “temporary sick leave” from St. John’s School for the Deaf. He leaves Milwaukee and moves to northern Wisconsin, in the Diocese of Superior, where he lives in a family home with his mother. He has no official assignment from this point until his death in 1998. He does not return to live in Milwaukee. No canonical penalties are pursued against him.
9 July 1980
Officials in the Diocese of Superior write to officials in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee about what ministry Father Murphy might undertake in Superior. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee since 1977, has been consulted and says it would be unwise to have Father Murphy return to ministry with the deaf community. There is no indication that Archbishop Weakland foresees any other measures to be taken in the case.
17 July 1996
More than 20 years after the original abuse allegations, Archbishop Weakland writes to Cardinal Ratzinger, claiming that he has only just discovered that Father Murphy’s sexual abuse involved the sacrament of confession — a still more serious canonical crime. The allegations about the abuse of the sacrament of confession were in the original 1974 allegations. Weakland has been archbishop of Milwaukee by this point for 19 years.
It should be noted that for sexual-abuse charges, Archbishop Weakland could have proceeded against Father Murphy at any time. The matter of solicitation in the sacrament of confession required notifying Rome, but that too could have been done as early as the 1970s.
10 September 1996
Father Murphy is notified that a canonical trial will proceed against him. Until 2001, the local bishop had authority to proceed in such trials. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is now beginning the trial. It is noteworthy that at this point, no reply has been received from Rome indicating that Archbishop Weakland knew he had that authority to proceed.
24 March 1997
Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, advises a canonical trial against Father Murphy.
14 May 1997
Archbishop Weakland writes to Archbishop Bertone to say that the penal process against Father Murphy has been launched, and notes that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has advised him to proceed even though the statute of limitations has expired. In fact, there is no statute of limitations for solicitation in the sacrament of confession.
Throughout the rest of 1997 the preparatory phases of penal process or canonical trial is underway. On 5 January 1998 the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee says that an expedited trial should be concluded within a few months.
12 January 1998
Father Murphy, now less than eight months away from his death, appeals to Cardinal Ratzinger that, given his frail health, he be allowed to live out his days in peace.
6 April 1998
Archbishop Bertone, noting the frail health of Father Murphy and that there have been no new charges in almost 25 years, recommends using pastoral measures to ensure Father Murphy has no ministry, but without the full burden of a penal process. It is only a suggestion, as the local bishop retains control.
13 May 1998
The Bishop of Superior, where the process has been transferred to and where Father Murphy has lived since 1974, rejects the suggestion for pastoral measures. Formal pre-trial proceedings begin on 15 May 1998, continuing the process already begun with the notification that had been issued in September 1996.
30 May 1998
Archbishop Weakland, who is in Rome, meets with officials at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, including Archbishop Bertone but not including Cardinal Ratzinger, to discuss the case. The penal process is ongoing. No decision taken to stop it, but given the difficulties of a trial after 25 years, other options are explored that would more quickly remove Father Murphy from ministry.
19 August 1998
Archbishop Weakland writes that he has halted the canonical trial and penal process against Father Murphy and has immediately begun the process to remove him from ministry — a quicker option.
21 August 1998
Father Murphy dies. His family defies the orders of Archbishop Weakland for a discreet funeral.
"To be connected with the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers and hypocrites of every description.GOING FOR THE VATICAN JUGULAR:
It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul of every time, country, race, and gender.
To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of soul because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves."
Recent accusations against the Vatican deserve a response.Archbishop of Toronto-Thomas Collins:
• Fr. Lawrence Murphy apparently began his predatory behavior inWisconsin in the 1950s, yet the victims' families never contacted the police until the mid-1970s.
After an investigation, thecase was dropped.
• The Vatican did not learn of the case until 1996.
• Cardinal Ratzinger, now the pope, was the head of the office that was contacted. There is no evidence that he knew of it. But even if he did, he would have had to allow for an investigation. While the inquiry was proceeding, Murphy died.
• The Times questions why Murphy was never defrocked. But only the Vatican can do that, and since it never learned of the case until he was dying, it was never a realistic option.
• The Times says the Vatican's canonical inquiry was done in secret. Correct. The proceedings of internal investigations—even in organizations like the Times—are never shown on C-SPAN.
• The Times says repeatedly that Church officials did not report accusations of abuse to the police. The common response of all organizations, secular as well as religious, was to access therapy and reinstate the patient (I prefer the term offender). Today it is obvious that a more hard-line approach is necessary, though therapy is still popular in many quarters.
• The Times continues to editorialize about the "pedophilia crisis," when all along it's been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.
Here's what's really going on. The Times has teamed up with Jeffrey Anderson, a radical lawyer who has made millions suing the Church (and greasing professional victims' groups like SNAP), so they can weaken its moral authority. Why? Because of issues like abortion, gay marriage and women's ordination. That's what's really driving them mad, and that's why they are on the hunt.
Those who doubt this to be true need to ask why the debt-ridden Times does not spend the same resources looking for dirt in other institutions that occurred a half-century ago.
"As we look to the continuing painful purification of the Church, we all need in a particular way to give thanks to God for the leadership of Joseph Ratzinger, as Cardinal and Pope, who has acted decisively, fairly, consistently, and courageously to purify the priesthood and to make the Church a safe place for everyone. Anyone with any knowledge of this terrible reality realizes that Pope Benedict has led the way in confronting this evil."Related Links:
French and Spanish Bishops support Holy Father