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New York Times highlights Vatican inaction on abusive Milwaukee priest

Catholic World News - March 25, 2010

In a front-page headline story, the New York Times has called attention to a sex-abuse case in which the Vatican failed to act promptly on a request to defrock a Wisconsin priest who was accused of molesting up to 200 boys at a school for the deaf.

In an extraordinary public statement directly responding to the Times story, the Vatican pointed out that the Vatican was unaware of the accusations against Father Lawrence Murphy until more than 20 years after they arose. In his statement Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, also took pains to debunk the popular misconception that the 1962 Vatican document Crimen Sollicitationis and/or the Code of Canon Law required diocesan officials to maintain absolute confidentiality about abuse reports. He said:

Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither 'Crimen' nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities.

Milwaukee's Archbishop Rembert Weakland sought the laicization of Father Murphy in 1996-- more than 40 years after the priest was first accused of sexual abuse. The Milwaukee archdiocese had removed the accused priest from his post in 1974 and assigned him to pastoral work in another diocese, without taking formal disciplinary action or informing police of the charges.

Father Murphy escaped an ecclesiastical trial by pointing out that the canonical statute of limitations had elapsed since his last recorded offense, saying that he had repented and reformed, and pointing out that his health was failing. He died shortly thereafter, still technically a priest in good standing.

[See CWN editor Phil Lawler's commentary on the story: The Pope and the Murphy case: what the New York Times story didn't tell you.]

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  • Posted by: Gaudete802 - Mar. 26, 2010 1:15 PM ET USA

    The key to all this is that even with the document trail, the responsibility rested with the Milwaukee Archdiocese from 1950 to 1997 to discipline Fr. Murphy. Weakland's forwarding action in 1997-8 seems to be a feeble attempt to foist the problem onto the Vatican now 20 years after the last known offense. I think it's Weakland the Times should be accusing.

  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Mar. 25, 2010 9:22 PM ET USA

    Maybe it was Weakland the Vatican had no confidence in.

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