Lawyer reveals church records implicating pope in cover-up
Advocate for church abuse victims, secured the rarely seen church correspondence about Murphy after a Milwaukee Superior Court judge ordered the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to turn over the material.
Murphy served at St. John’s School for the Deaf in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1950 to 1974 and was then moved to the Diocese of Superior, where he served until his death.
“I was shocked to get these documents,” Anderson said during a news conference Thursday in his St. Paul office. “We know this is what they do, but we know that it’s really rare they document it, and even rarer they give it to us.”
He said he entered the documents into the public record in a Portland, Ore., abuse case he’s leading.
The documents from the church and the Vatican show that in the mid-1990s, two Wisconsin bishops, including then-Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, urged the Vatican office led by Ratzinger to let them hold a church trial against Murphy. But the church trial was halted after Murphy wrote Ratzinger a letter saying he was ill and infirm.
Anderson said the letters show the Vatican was more interested in protecting its reputation than in protecting children.
“All roads, and ultimately responsibility for the scandal and the coverup, lead to Rome,” he said.
The lawyer said that while it was Ratzinger’s second-in-command who months later responded to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the future pope would have had knowledge of the complaints as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that decides if priests should be tried within the church and defrocked.
Ratzinger headed the office from 1981 to 2005.
Mike Finnegan, an attorney in Anderson’s office, said Ratzinger put children at risk by sitting on the complaints out of Milwaukee for months while Murphy was still living and working in the Superior Diocese.
Anderson called on the Vatican for a full accounting of abuse by priests since 1950, “to come clean,” he said. While he had “zero confidence” in the pope’s ability to handle the situation, he said he would continue to put pressure on the church until all of its pedophiles and those complicit with abusers are locked up.
“Stop the denial,” he said. “Get honest, be true. Protect the kids, the sick, the vulnerable.”
He said Ratzinger and his predecessors were “the mastermind, head, of an international conspiracy to cover up their own crimes and keep them above the law.”
Murphy remained a priest until his death of natural causes on Aug. 21, 1998.
Donald Marshall was a teenager at the Lincoln Hills Boys Home in Irma, Wis., when, he says, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy sexually abused him.
“He was locked in my cell with me. We started reading from the Bible. It pretty much started off by him putting his hand on my knee,” Marshall said. The priest then wrapped his arms around the teenager, kissed him and tried to fondle him.
“I don’t remember how I got him to back off, but I did,” Marshall said.
In later years, Marshall became an alcoholic and “had troubles,” he said, in part due to Murphy’s abuse.
He’s gotten his life back together, he said – sober six years, rides with the Patriot Guard, runs his own auto shop – and has sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Superior over Murphy’s alleged assault.
Still, Marshall, 45, of West Allis, said he was shocked when he learned then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – had a chance to defrock Murphy but instead did nothing.
Ratzinger “may have not fondled me, but he’s no different because he allowed it to happen,” Marshall said.
The link between Murphy – suspected of molesting up to 200 children between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s – and Ratzinger came to light only recently with the release of church documents. The paper trail moves a growing slate of sexual abuse claims – and efforts to cover them up – closer to the pope.
Jeff Anderson, Marshall’s attorney and a nationally known
At his funeral, Murphy’s family dressed the priest in his full vestments and displayed him in an open coffin – against the wishes of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Weakland wrote in a letter to the Vatican that was included in church documents provided to Anderson.
“Bishop Sklba, in his carefully prepared words, alluded to the good work Father Murphy did, but also, in deference to the deaf community present, had to mention that some shadows had been cast on his ministry,” Weakland wrote in a letter dated Sept. 2, 1998.
“In spite of these difficulties, we are still hoping we can avoid undue publicity that would be negative toward the Church,” he concluded.
A statement from the Milwaukee archdiocese Thursday said Murphy’s actions were criminal and it apologizes to those harmed by him.
The apology comes too late for Marshall.
“Now there are a lot of messed up adults out there, myself included, and the church acts like they don’t give a damn,” he said Thursday. “They’re frauds, and that goes right on down to the pope. He’s no better because he covered it up.”
John Brewer can be reached at 651-228-2093 | firstname.lastname@example.org
This report includes information from the Associated Press