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By Randy Sly

3/25/2010 (5 years ago)

Catholic Online (

A Wisconsin priest´s history of molestation lasted almost 25 years, from 1950 to 1974.

Fr. Lawrence Murphy, accused of abusing over 200 boys at a school for the deaf, died in 1998.

Fr. Lawrence Murphy, accused of abusing over 200 boys at a school for the deaf, died in 1998.


By Randy Sly

Catholic Online (

3/25/2010 (5 years ago)

Published in Europe

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Laurie Goodstein, religion writer for the New York Times, wrote an article on Wednesday about the Vatican declining to defrock a priest, Father Lawrence C. Murphy, who molested as many as 200 boys at St. John School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The incidents took place between 1950 and 1974.

The Vatican, which had received the complaint more than twenty years after the fact, responded quickly to the story, particularly due to allegations that top officials intentionally downplayed the case to protect the Church.

The incidents were first uncovered in 1974, at which time Father Murphy was transferred to the Diocese of the Superior in Northern Wisconsin, where he served in various capacities, including a Juvenile Detention Center, until his death in 1998.

Three succeeding Archbishops were made aware of the charges but no reports were ever filed with civil authorities.

After complaints were continuing to be received about Murphy by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee almost twenty years later, Archbishop Rembert Weakland began an investigation in 1993. He brought in a social worker who interviewed the priest and, as Goodstein reported, stated that during four days of interviews the man admitted to the acts of abuse but showed no remorse.

According to documents obtained by the Times, the case was referred to the Vatican three years later.

In 1996, then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, did not respond to two letters from the archbishop concerning the case. Eight months later, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Ratzinger´s assistant in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), then who contacted the Archdiocese and directed them to hold a secret canonical trial that could lead to Father Murphy´s dismissal. Bertone is now a Cardinal and serves as the Vatican Secretary of State.

Bertone later stopped the process after Cardinal Ratzinger received a letter from Father Murphy requesting that the proceedings be halted. The priest stated he had already repented, was in poor health and that the statute of Canonical limitations had passed.

Murphy was never tried. In addition, civil authorities failed to act on any reports they were given by victims.

Reportedly, Vatican officials were repeatedly warned by several American bishops that a failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The New York Times obtained these documents from attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, who had serves as the lawyers for five men bringing four lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Goodstein indicated that the documents "include letters between bishops and the Vatican, victims´ affidavits, the handwritten notes of an expert on sexual disorders who interviewed Father Murphy and minutes of a final meeting on the case at the Vatican."

The Wisconsin issue has been received particular interest after abuse allegations have surfaced in the Pope´s native Germany.

Vatican spokesman, Father Frederico Lombardi, issued a response to the Times article, providing a context for the actions by the CDF. The response was cited in the Goodstein´s article and appears here in its entirety:

"The tragic case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, involved particularly vulnerable victims who suffered terribly from what he did. By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him."

"During the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy´s victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time; however, according to news reports, that investigation was dropped.

"The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some twenty years later. It has been suggested that a relationship exists between the application of "Crimen sollicitationis" and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. 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.

"In the late 1990s, after over two decades had passed since the abuse had been reported to diocesan officials and the police, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented for the first time with the question of how to treat the Murphy case canonically. The Congregation was informed of the matter because it involved solicitation in the confessional, which is a violation of the Sacrament of Penance. It is important to note that the canonical question presented to the Congregation was unrelated to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy.

"In such cases, the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties, but recommends that a judgment be made not excluding even the greatest ecclesiastical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state (cf. Canon 1395, no. 2). In light of the facts that Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health, and that he was living in seclusion and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested that the Archbishop of Milwaukee give consideration to addressing the situation by, for example, restricting Father Murphy´s public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts. Father Murphy died approximately four months later, without further incident."

Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online. He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.


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