Advocates for victims of Catholic clergy sex abuse on Monday released documents they say refute claims by retired Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland that he did not understand early on the criminal nature of the abuse or its long-term effects on victims.
They also disputed statements that he attempted to deal with pedophile priests but was thwarted by Vatican policy.
Weakland makes those assertions in his forthcoming memoir, “A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church,” saying at one point, “We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature.”
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests took issue with the claims, and on Monday released documents from a civil fraud case involving the late Father Lawrence Murphy, who is thought to have abused as many as 200 deaf children in the 1960s and ’70s.
“He likes to position himself as a critic of the Vatican, the one bishop who stood up to challenge the system,” SNAP Midwest Director Peter Isely said of Weakland, in releasing the documents outside the archdiocese’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
“He never once stood up against the system when it came to the molestation and rape of boys” by Murphy at St. John School for the Deaf in St. Francis, where Murphy worked for two decades, Isely said.
Weakland did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
In a statement, the archdiocese said it has acknowledged for many years the allegations against Murphy included in the documents. The abuse committed by Murphy “thirty years ago was a horrendous betrayal of his priestly vows,” said the statement. It said Murphy’s name appears on the archdiocese’s list of clergy offenders and that the archdiocese has instituted policies to ensure that such abusers no longer serve as priests.
In his book, the retired archbishop says that in the 1970s, he “naively” accepted the notion that victims would either forget or “grow out of” the abuse. He blames the leniency shown by judges toward priests (and other professionals) in sex abuse cases for shaping his views on the perpetrators.
The documents released Monday include victim statements recounting their memories and anguish from as early as 1974; a reference to a 1974 review of allegations against Murphy by the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office (no charges were filed because the statute of limitations had expired); and a letter showing Weakland was preoccupied – even after the priest’s death in 1998 – with preserving his “good name.”
In the letter to a nun explaining why he wanted a private funeral for Murphy, Weakland said: “So far, we have succeeded in preserving his reputation, and I hope we are able to do so in the future.”
The letter was written five years after a psychotherapist’s assessment of Murphy – also included in the documents – detailed how he preyed on vulnerable boys, one as young as 11, after they confided in him in the confessional.
Murphy, who died in 1998, is at the center of one of the civil fraud cases now pending against the Milwaukee Archdiocese. In it, Donald Marshall, now an adult, said he was molested by Murphy at a school in northern Wisconsin in the late 1970s after the priest was sent by the Milwaukee Archdiocese to live and work in Boulder Junction.