Pope faces abuse cover-up queries

Mar 25th, 2010 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

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Pope faces abuse cover-up queries

Questions are being raised about whether Pope Benedict was personally involved in covering up a case of child sex abuse by a Roman Catholic priest.

Pope Benedict

Documents seen by the New York Times newspaper allege that in the 1990s, long before he became Pope, he failed to respond to letters about a US case. (See article following this one)

Fr Lawrence Murphy, of Wisconsin, was accused of abusing up to 200 deaf boys.

Defending itself, the Vatican said US civil authorities had investigated and dropped the case.

For more than 20 years before he was made Pope, Joseph Ratzinger led the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith – the Vatican office with responsibility, among other issues, for the Church’s response to child abuse cases.

Allegations that the Church sought to cover up child abuse by Catholic priests in Europe have haunted the Vatican for months.

‘He was so friendly’

The documents seen by the New York Times suggest that in 1996, the then Cardinal Ratzinger twice failed to respond to letters sent to him personally.

Instead of removing [Fr Murphy] from the priesthood, they just gave him a free pass
Jeff Anderson US lawyer

They concerned the Rev Lawrence Murphy, who worked at a Wisconsin school for deaf children from the 1950s.

Three archbishops of Wisconsin were told Fr Murphy was sexually abusing boys but those allegations were not reported to civil authorities at the time.

Alleged victims quoted by the New York Times gave accounts of the priest pulling down their trousers and touching them in his office, his car, his mother’s country house, on class excursions and fund-raising trips, and in their dormitory beds at night.

“If he was a real mean guy, I would have stayed away,” said Arthur Budzinski, 61, a former pupil of at St John’s School for the Deaf, in St Francis, in the Diocese of Milwaukee.

“But he was so friendly, and so nice and understanding. I knew he was wrong, but I couldn’t really believe it.”

According to the New York Times, Fr Murphy was quietly moved to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin in 1974, where he spent his last 24 years working freely with children in parishes and schools. He died in 1998, still a priest.

Two lawyers have filed lawsuits on behalf of five men alleging the Archdiocese of Milwaukee did not take sufficient action against the priest.

One of the lawyers, Jeff Anderson, told the Associated Press news agency that the documents they had obtained on Fr Murphy, and shown to the New York Times, showed the Vatican was more concerned about possible publicity than about the abuse allegations.

“Instead of removing him from the priesthood, they just gave him a free pass,” he said.

‘Tragic case’

The Pope’s official spokesman, Federico Lombardi, called it a “tragic case” but pointed out that the Vatican had become involved only in 1996, after US civil authorities had dropped the case.

“During the mid-1970s, some of Fr Murphy’s victims reported his abuse to civil authorities,” the Rev Lombardi said in a statement.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith was not informed of the matter until some 20 years later.”

The Milwaukee diocese was asked to take action by “restricting Fr Murphy’s public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts”, the Rev Lombardi added.

He also said that Fr Murphy’s poor health and a lack of more recent allegations had been factors in the decision not to defrock him.

But the Vatican’s decision not to carry out its own investigation is the question that brings the now Pope’s own involvement centre stage, says BBC religious affairs correspondent Christopher Landau.

Victims of sexual abuse by priests have long argued that the Church has been more interested in protecting its reputation and helping its priests than seeking justice for victims, our correspondent adds.

Fr Murphy died in 1998, with – in the Church’s view – no official blemish on his priestly record.

But questions about why Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to concerns being raised by American archbishops still demand answers, our correspondent says.

And such questions mean that this sexual abuse crisis continues to have an impact at the very highest level in the Roman Catholic church, he adds.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2010/03/25 13:04:02 GMT

Abuse Scandal’s Ripples Spread Across Europe


The New York Times

This article is by Katrin Bennhold, Nicholas Kulish and Rachel Donadio.

MUNICH — The fallout from the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church settled across Europe on Wednesday, as prosecutors said they were weighing criminal charges against a priest suspected of molesting children in Germany, and Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of a bishop accused of mishandling allegations of abuse in Ireland.

The possibility of criminal charges emerged from new accusations against a priest at the center of the child-molesting scandal rocking the church in Germany. On Wednesday, church officials in Munich said the priest, the Rev. Peter Hullermann — whose transfer in 1980 to an archdiocese led at the time by Benedict, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, has drawn the pope himself into the nation’s child abuse controversy — had been accused of molesting a minor as recently as 1998.

The latest revelation comes as church officials in northern Germany say they have “credible evidence” of at least two other cases of sexual abuse committed by Father Hullermann in the 1970s, adding to a trail of accusations that suggest a pattern of abuse over two decades. During that time, church officials repeatedly transferred Father Hullermann to new parishes and allowed him to work with children, even after a 1986 conviction for sexually abusing boys.

Father Hullermann has not returned repeated calls and hung up without comment when reached briefly on Wednesday.

At the Vatican on Thursday, a small group of abuse victims gathered to demonstrate against the church’s refusal to defrock a priest in Wisconsin implicated in the abuse of as many as 200 deaf boys, and the role the pope had played in the case when oversaw the Vatican’s doctrinal arm.

“The goal of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was to keep this secret,” Peter Isely, Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the Associated Press. “This is the most incontrovertible case of pedophilia you could get.”

The A.P. reported that some of the demonstrators were detained by police. In Ireland, Bishop John Magee, whose resignation was accepted by the pope on Wednesday, issued a statement of apology. In 2008, an investigation by a church panel into allegations in Cloyne found that Bishop Magee had failed to respond to accusations of abuse and that policies to protect children were severely lacking, setting off calls for his resignation.

“As I depart, I want to offer once again my sincere apologies,” said Bishop Magee, who had served as private secretary to three popes. He added, “To those whom I have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg forgiveness and pardon.”

Bishop Magee’s was the first resignation the pope accepted since issuing a long-awaited letter to Irish Catholics last weekend apologizing to victims of sexual abuse and expressing “shame and remorse.”

Yet Benedict’s letter did not call for any church leaders to be disciplined, feeding a growing sense of anger in Ireland. Many Catholics there are demanding that the leader of the Irish church, Cardinal Sean Brady, resign over his role as a young priest in the 1970s in urging two children to sign secrecy agreements and not to report abuse.

Benedict’s letter followed two scathing Irish government reports last year revealing decades of sexual abuse of hundreds of thousands of children and a widespread cover-up. The findings have shaken the Irish church to its core; some fear it has lost a generation to the crisis.

Bishop Magee’s resignation accompanied a steady drumbeat for more church leaders to step down. Beyond Bishop Magee, four other Irish bishops implicated in the government reports for failing to protect children have offered to resign, but Benedict has accepted only one’s offer.

Nor has Benedict addressed the German scandal directly. So far, no cases have emerged from the two-year period when Father Hullermann worked at St. John the Baptist Church in Munich and Benedict was archbishop. But accusations have now surfaced at every other stop between Father Hullermann’s ordination in 1973 and his criminal conviction in 1986, and during a later assignment in 1998.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Munich archdiocese said the most recent potential victim had contacted the church. “The likely victim was a minor at the time,” the statement said, noting that the case had been referred to the prosecutor’s office.

“We are currently investigating the circumstances of the case,” said Eduard Mayer, the head of the prosecutor’s office handling the matter.

Church authorities have also been alerted to two previously unknown potential victims in the northern town of Bottrop. “We have two tip-offs that are so conclusive that we must proceed under the assumption that these incidents took place,” said Ulrich Lota, spokesman for the diocese in Essen, where Father Hullermann was ordained, confirming that in both cases the victims were boys.

Father Hullermann was abruptly transferred from Bottrop to Essen in 1977, but, according to Mr. Lota, there are no references in his file to abuse from that time.

Two years later, three sets of parents told the priest in charge of Father Hullermann’s new church that he had abused their children, prompting his transfer to Munich for therapy, where he was returned to parish duties.

After just over two years in Munich he was transferred once again, this time to the nearby town of Grafing. There, he abused several boys, leading to his conviction in 1986, which resulted in a suspended sentence of five years’ probation and a fine.

He then spent one year working in a nursing home before he was sent to a parish in Garching.

On Tuesday, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, the archbishop at the time of Father Hullermann’s transfer to Garching, asked victims and their families to forgive him for allowing the priest to transfer to there during his tenure. “I am now painfully aware that I should have made a different decision at the time,” said Cardinal Wetter, who stepped down as archbishop in 2007.

Wolfgang Reichenwallner, the mayor of Garching, where Father Hullermann worked for 21 years after his 1986 conviction, said that the apology had come “awfully late” and that town officials had not been informed about the priest’s repeated transgressions.

Cardinal Wetter said he had “overestimated a person’s ability to change and underestimated the difficulties of therapeutic treatment for people with pedophile tendencies.”

The Munich archdiocese, in its initial statement on Father Hullermann’s case this month, said “the statements of the treating psychologist” were decisive in his return to parish duties.

But Dr. Werner Huth, the psychiatrist who treated Father Hullermann from 1980 to 1992, said last week that from the very outset he had repeatedly warned church officials not to allow the priest to work with children ever again.

Katrin Bennhold and Nicholas Kulish reported from Munich, and Rachel Donadio from Rome. Eamon Quinn contributed reporting from Dublin.

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