By Fr. George Welzbacher
April 11, 2010
Pope Benedict and the Scandals
Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Josef Goebbels, got it right: "If you're going to tell a lie, tell a BIG one, tell it BOLDLY, and tell it OVER and OVER and OVER! And for half the world it will be the truth!" This is the strategy that was used to destroy the reputation of Pope Pius XII, who stands convicted now in the court of public opinion as having done little or nothing during World War II to help the Jews, whereas in reality his was the voice- "a lonely voice," as a grateful New York Times once described it-that first revealed to the world in 1942, in his radio broadcast on Christmas Eve, that even as he spoke, "hundreds of thousands have already been killed, or are now being sentenced to a slow and cruel death, for no reason other than their race." Back then everyone knew of whom he spoke. So, too, when the German army seized most of Italy in 1943, Pope Pius directed every convent and monastery in German-occupied Italy to forget about enclosure and to shelter within their walls as many Jews as they could possibility house. Vatican City itself and the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo gave shelter to many Jews. Indeed in a strikng acknowledgement of the help that the Jews had received from the Pope the chief rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, on becoming a convert to the Catholic faith after the Americans had liberated Rome (when in so doing he had nothing worldly to gain and much, very much, to lose), took the pope's baptismal name Eugenio as his own new Christian name in a gesture of gratitude to Pope Pius. One might well recall, too, how at Pope Pius' death tributes were, offered by Jewish celebrities all over the world. No matter. A propaganda campaign, launched ftom the Soviet Union towards the end of World War II, was given immense new momentum through the play "The Deputy", written by ex-Nazi playright Rolf Hochhuth. Translated into a dozen languages or more and produced in the world's major cities, starting late in the decade after Pope Pius' death, the play has replaced reality with a caricature, presenting an image of Pope Pius XII that seems now to be settled in the popular mind, the image of the pope as a monster of indifference to the sufferings of millions of Jews.
So, again, if attorney Jeff Anderson has his way, with the help of the new New York Times, Benedict XVI will have his image transformed into that of an abettor of evil who repeatedly sought to protect from prosecution priest predators who victimized the young. The decades-old criminal behavior of two priests in particular is now being exploited to defame Pope Benedict. One of the priests served the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the other, the Archdiocese of Munich. May I address the allegations about the priest in Munich first.
On January 15, 1980, Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, for the past two years the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, presided over a regular administrative meeting dealing among other items with the recent deaths of four priests of the archdiocese and with the need to provide service to a group of Catholic immigrants recently arrived from Viet Nam. Attention was given briefly to item 5d-a request from the diocese of Essen to provide room and board for a priest of that diocese who, though possessed of noteworthy talents, was in need of psychotherapeutic help, help that was available in Munich. The request was presented by Father Friedrich Fahr, the archdiocesan personnel chief who had been in contact with his counterpart in the diocese of Essen. How much of the background for this particular request was explained at the meeting is impossible to say. The minutes of the January 15th meeting simply indicate that this request was approved and that the priest in question, Father Peter Hullerman, would reside at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Munich. Five days later, on January 20th, the Vicar General of the archdiocese, Father Gerhard Gruber, WHO HAD NOT BEEN PRESENT at the January 15th meeting, sent to the Archbishop's office for inclusion in the archdiocesan files a copy of the memo in which, as Vicar General, he had authorized Father Hullerman's appointment to the parish of St John the Baptist. Unfortunately in the memo no restrictions on his service were noted. It is quite possible that the Vicar General, preoccupied with the multitude of matters of varying degrees of urgency that a high official in any large diocese has to deal with on a daily basis, may not have been fully aware of the need for caution in approving this particular appointment. And whether Cardinal Ratzinger himself ever saw a copy of Father Gruber's memo is a matter of speculation. Father Gruber has recently stated in public that the DECISION to make this assignment WITHOUT restriction was his own and was NOT that of the Cardinal Archbishop.
And indeed for a while there seemed to be no problem with Father Hullerrnan; the program of psychotherapy was apparently succeeding. (Back in the 1980's psychotherapists were much more optimistic than they are today about the possibility of correcting disordered sexual orientation). But six years later, in 1986, Father Hullerman was convicted of a pedophiliac molestation committed in a subsequent assignment. By then Cardinal Ratzinger had long since left for Rome to assume leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Church authorities in Munich now concede that "bad mistakes" were made in the matter of Father Hullerman's appointment. On the strength of the memo that was "copied" to the Archbishop's office on January 20th, 1980 allegations are now being made to the effect that full responsibility for the Vicar General's decision to allow this priest from Essen to serve in a Munich parish with no restrictions on his contact with the young rests with the future pope. A less vengeful view is that one may be dealing here with an administrative slip-up, due perhaps to faulty communication, that had tragic results.
Similar accusations are now being made against the pope in the matter of a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Father Lawrence Murphy, who for nearly a quarter of a century, from 1950 to 1974, served the St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin, and is credibly accused of having sexually molested as many as 200 of the boys who attended that school. At least equally devastating is the revelation that three successive archbishops of Milwaukee, to whom complaints from the victims had been sent, either dismissed the complaints as unworthy of belief or censurably chose to take no appropriate action, until in 1974 Father Murphy finally was ordered to take early retirement at the age of 48.
But how is this shocking and inexcusable negligence to be linked with Pope Benedict? In 1996, MORE TH4N TWENTY YEARS AFTER Father Murphy had been dismissed from St. John's School for the Deaf and had been commanded to take early retirement, Milwaukee's Archbishop Rembert Weakland, perhaps acting on the conviction that even so belated a holding of an ecclesiastical trial would be a healing experience for Father Murphy's victims (and perhaps acting on the perception that taking such action might help to forestall lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee), presented an urgent request to Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to authorize a full-scale formal canonical triat for Father Murphy, presumably to lead to his being "defrocked," that is to say, to his being forbidden to exercise those functions which the priestly character imprinted indelibly on his soul empowered him to discharge. The basis for this appeal to Cardinal Ratzinger was that Father Murphy's alleged abuse of the Sacrament of Confession as a forum for his solicitations fell under the assigned jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the congregation that Cardinal Ratzinger had headed since November of 1981. It would only be later-in 2001-that Pope John Paul would entrust ALL allegations of sexual abuse by priests to the aforesaid congregation.
In March of 1997, Cardinal Ratzinger's deputy in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, granted Milwaukee's Archbishop Weakfand authorization to conduct a local ecclesiastical trial on the grounds that the Sacrament of Confession may have been sacrilegiously befouled in the course of Father Murphy's solicitations. Milwaukee's Father Thomas Brundage, a canon lawyer, was to preside at the trial. The proceedings slowly got under way, complicated by problems inherent in asking witnesses to testify about events that allegedly had taken place a quarter of a century or more in the past. Either during the trial or before it Father Murphy suffered a major stroke, in consideration of which, in January of 1998, he wrote a personal letter to Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation, expressing profound sorrow for his crimes and sins but begging for an end to the juridical proceedings, given his age and impaired health as well as the absence, so he alleged, of further complaints during the twenty-four years of his retirement. And he pointed out that his death was probably drawing near, with impending judgment in a much higher and more discerning Court.
Three months later, in April of 1998, after lengthy consideration of Father Murphy's request, Archbishop Bertone wrote to the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities in Wisconsin suggesting (not commanding) that in view of Father Murphy's age and serious illness there was perhaps not a great deal more to be gained from a continuation of the trial. One of the authorities thus addressed was Bishop Raymond Fliss of the Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin, within whose boundaries Father Murphy's retirement home was located. Bishop Fliss wrote back to Archbishop Bertone, expressing his view that the trial should continue. A few weeks later, in May of 1998, Bishop Fliss and Archbishop Weakland flew to Rome to fulfill their canonical duty of periodic consultation (normally every five years) with the Holy See. While they were in Rome Archbishop Bertone reaffirmed his recommendation that the trial be brought to an end. Not long after returning to Wisconsin, Archbishop Weakland, as the state's senior prelate-it isn't clear whether this action was taken with Bishop Fliss' concurrence- decided to close down the proceedings. The decision was recorded on August 19th. Father Murphy was directed to spend his final days in total seclusion, in prayer and in the performance of penitential acts, begging God for forgiveness, and refraining from any public exercise of priestly functions. Two weeks later, on September 2nd, Father Murphy died.
Such is the basis for the recent denunciation of Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) for supposedly, in his capacity as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having "turned a blind eye to clerical depredations", to quote a reporter for CBS radio news.
Is the accusation fair? In the absence of a formal verdict the substantial equivalent of "defrocking" had been imposed on Father Murphy, while care was taken for the salvation of his seemingly repentant immortal soul. Whether such disposition of the case was an act of misguided mercy each of us will have to decide on his own. My own judgment would be: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd" and "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
In conclusion I would also suggest that if complicity in the crimes and sins that Father Murphy conunitted over the course of nearly a quarter of a century, from 1950 to 1974, is to be assigned, such complicity cannot be imputed to Cardinal Ratzinger, who was alerted to Father Murphy's malfeasance only decades after the fact, but rather to the three successive archbishops of Milwaukee who despite multiple complaints did indeed "turn a blind eye" to accusations that were as credible as they were numerous. And most importantly of all, in the face of this dreadful scandal our number-one priority should be prayer-with the offering of all possible aid-for the VICTIMS of sexual exploitation at the hands of those who indefensibly betrayed a sacred trust.
* * * * *In evidence of just where it is that Pope Benedict stands-and has long stood-on the question of sexual predators among the clergy-the "filth" in the Church that he denounced when he conducted the public Stations of the Cross in the Roman Colosseum shortly before the death of Pope John Paul-may I cite a signed editorial from the April 6th edition of the Wall Street Journal, followed by a cogent critique of the unfairness of the New York Tirnes coverage of this whole scandal, particularly in its imputation of complicity to Pope Benedict. The critique was written by John Allen, the veteran correspondent in Rome for the National Catholic Reporter, the preeminent organ of the Catholic "far left".
* * * * *The Pope and the New York Times
By: William McGurn
The Wall Street Journal of Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Unlike the Roman papacy, in certain circles the New York Times still enjoys the presumption of authority. So when the front page carries a story headlined "Vatican Declined to Defrock U. S. Priest Who Abused Deaf Boys," people notice.
Written by Laurie Goodstein and published March 25, the thrust is twofold. First, that the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, a priest who abused children at St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee from the 1950s to the 1970s, went unpunished. Father Murphy, she wrote categorically, "was NEVER tried or disciplined by the Church's own justice system.
This all feeds the kicker: "the effort to dismiss Father Murphy came to a sudden halt after the priest appealed to Cardinal Ratzinger for leniency." In other words, Murphy got off scot-free, and the cardinal looked the other way.
Ms. Goodstein cites internal church documents, which the Times posted online. The documents were provided by Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan. They are described as "lawyers for five men who have brought four lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee."
What she did not tell readers is that Mr. Anderson isn't just any old lawyer. When it comes to suing the church, he is America's leading plaintiff's attorney. Back in 2002, he told the Associated Press that he'd won more than $60 million in settlements from the church, and he once boasted to a Twin Cities weekly that he's "suing the s-t out of them everywhere." Nor did the Times report another salient fact about Mr. Anderson: He's now trying to sue the Vatican in U. S. Federal court.
None of this makes Mr. Anderson wrong or unworthy of quoting. It does make him a much bigger player than the story disclosed. In fact, it's hard to think of anyone with a greater financial interest in promoting the public narrative of a church that takes zero action against abuser priests, with Pope Benedict XVI personally culpable.
Asked about the omissions in an email, Ms. Goodstein replied as follows: "Given the complexity of the Murphy case, and the relative brevity of my story, I don't think it is realistic for you to expect this story to get into treating other cases that these attorneys have handled."
Martin Nussbaum, a lawyer who is not involved in the Murphy case but who has defended other dioceses and churches in sexual abuse suits, emailed the four interesting letters sent to Murphy from three Wisconsin bishops. These documents are NOT among those posted online by the Times. They are revelant, however, because they REFUTE the idea that Murphy went unpunished.
In fact, the letters from these bishops-three in 1993 and one in 1995, after fresh allegations of Murphy's misconduct-variously informed the priest that he was not to celebrate the sacraments in public, not to have any unsupervised contact with minors, and not to work in any parish religious education program.
It's accurate to say Murphy was never convicted by a church tribunal. It's also reasonable to argue (as I would) that Murphy should have been disciplined more. It is untrue, however, to suggest he was "never" disciplined. When asked if she knew of these letters, Ms. Goodstein did not directly answer, saying her focus was on what was "new", i.e., "the attempts by those same bishops to have Father Murphy laicized."
As for Rome., it did not get the case until 1996, when the archdiocese of Milwaukee informed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Back then, the CDF handled abuse cases when they involved a breach of confession (Murphy was accused of using the confessional to solicit boys). At that time, too, the only real option for reducing Murphy to the lay state was a church trial And the bishops in Wisconsin did begin a trial.
Ms. Goodstein's original article said simply that Cardinal Ratzinger's deputy halted Murphy's trial after the priest sent the cardinal a letter saying he was dying and asking for clemency. A follow-up Times article last Thursday clarified that Rome came down the way it did because Murphy had shown "apparent good conduct" for the last 24 years, and "it would be difficult to try him" because "so much time [had] passed between the crimes and the trial "
Plus, his bishops had ALREADY stripped Murphy of his priestly faculties, the equivalent of taking a doctor's medical license. Does all this really suggest people callously looking the other way?
A few years later., when the CDF assumed authority over all abuse cases, Cardinal Ratzinger implemented changes that allowed for direct ADMINISTRATIVE action instead of trials that often took years. Roughly 60% of priests accused of sexual abuse were handled this way. The man who is now pope reopened cases that had been closed, did more than anyone else to process cases and hold abusers accountable, and became the first pope to meet with victims. Isn't the more reasonable interpretation of all these events that Cardinal Ratzinger's experience with cases like Murphy's helped him to promote reforms that gave the church MORE EFFECTIVE TOOLS for handling priestly abuse?
That's not to say that the press should be shy, even about Pope Benedict XVI's decisions as archbishop and cardinal. The Murphy case raises hard questions: why it took the archbishops of Milwaukee nearly two decades to suspend Murphy from his ministry; why innocent people whose lives had been shattered by men they are supposed to view as icons of Christ found so little justice, how bishops should deal with an accused clergyman when criminal investigations are inconclusive; how to balance the demands of justice with the Catholic imperative that sins can be forgiven. Oh, yes maybe some context, and a bit of journalistic skepticism about the narrative of a plaintiffs attorney making millions off these cases.
That's still a story worth pursuing.
* * * * *
In Fairness: A Defense of the Pope* * * * *
By: John L. Allen Jr.
From: Star Tribune, Tuesday, March 30, 2010 (reprinted from the New York Times)
In light of recent revelations, Pope Benedict now seems to symbolize the tremendous failure by the Catholic Church to crack down on the sexual abuse of children.... However, all the criticism is obscuring something equally important: For anyone who knows the Vatican's history on this issue, Benedict XVI isn't just part of the problem. He's also a major chapter in the SOLUTION.
To understand that, it's necessary to wind the clock back a decade. Before then, no Vatican office had clear responsibility for cases of priests accused of sexual abuse, which instead were usually handled-and often ignored-at the diocesan level. In 2001, however, Pope John Paul II assigned responsibility to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's all-important doctrinal office, which was headed by Ratzinger, then a cardinal.
As a result, bishops were required to send their case files to Ratzinger's office. By all accounts, he studied them with care, making him one of the few churchmen anywhere in the world to have read the documentation on virtually every Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse. The experience gave him a familiarity with the pervasiveness of the problem that virtually no other figure in the Catholic Church can claim. And driven by that encounter with what he would later refer to as "filth" in the church, Ratzinger seems to have undergone a transformation. From that point forward, he and his staff were determined to get something done.
One crucial issue he had to resolve was how to handle the church's internal disciplinary PROCEDURES for abusive priests. Early on, reforrners worried that Rome would insist on full TRLALS in church courts before a priest could be removed from ministry or defrocked. Those trials were widely seen as slow, cumbersome and uncertain, yet many in the Vatican thought they were needed to protect the due process rights of the accused.
In the end, Ratzinger and his team approved direct administrative action in roughly 60 percent of the cases. Having sorted through the evidence, they concluded that in most cases swift action was more important than preserving the church's legal formalities.
After being elected pope, Benedict made the abuse cases a priority. One of his first acts was to discipline two high-profile clerics against whom sex abuse allegations had been hanging around for decades, but had previously been protected at the highest levels.
He is also the firnt pope ever to meet with VICTIMS of abuse, which he did in the United States and Australia in 2008. He spoke openly about the crisis some five times during his 2008 visit to the United States. And he became the first pope to devote an entire document to the sex-abuse crisis, his pastoral letter to Ireland.
What we're left with are two distinct views of the scandal. The outside world- is outraged, rightly, at the church's decades of ignoring the problem. But those who understand the glacial pace at which change occurs in the Vatican understand that Benedict, admittedly late in the game but more than any other high-ranking official, saw the gravity of the situation and tried to steer a new course.
Be that as it may, Benedict now faces a difficult situation inside the church. From the beginning, the crisis has been composed of two interlocking but distinct scandals: the priests who abused, and the bishops who failed to clean it up. The impact of Benedict's post-2001 conversion has been felt mostly at that first level, and he hasn't done nearly as much to enforce new accountability measures for bishops....
Yet to paint Benedict as uniquely villainous doesn't do justice to his record. The pope may still have much ground to cover, but he deserves credit for how far he's come.