Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
May 2, 2010

Day after day as one scans the morning paper one encounters certain by now familiar charges, charges already shown to be false but obsessively reasserted to the prejudice of Pope Benedict's good name. It's getting harder and harder not to suspect that the motive for this endless accusation is anything other than simple hatred for the Catholic Church. The fact, for example, that three successive archbishops of Milwaukee chose NOT to inform the Vatican about Father Lawrence C. Murphy's crimes against deaf children during the years when the crimes were being committed, that is to say, from the early 1950's to 1974, and that it was only very late in the day, in 1996, that Rembert Weakland, as archbishop of Milwaukee, finally brought these crimes to Cardinal Ratzinger's attention, apparently means nothing to attorney Jeff Anderson, the anti-church litigation millionaire who seems to take paramount delight in calling meetings with the press to air his claim that the chief responsibility for all of these crimes rests with then Cardinal Ratzinger who, after more than twenty years had passed since the commission of these crimes, did nothing in 1996 to stop them. Mr. Anderson must be assuming that the cardinal had a machine that enabled him to ride sua sponte back in time.

So, too, Laurie Goodstein, Mr. Anderson's chief ally at the New York Times, in her report for April 23rd informs her readers that "EFFORTS by Wisconsin church officials [a.k.a. Wisconsin bishops] to SUBJECT Father Murphy to a canonical TRIAL and [to] remove him from the priesthood were HAILTED after he wrote a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger asking for a CESSATION OF THE TRIAL." In this latest mishmash of previous reports Ms. Goodstein seems to be unaware of the fact that in the space of a single sentence she has contradicted herself. She begins by saying that the "Wisconsin church officials" were TRYING-i.e. making "EFFORTS"- "to SUBJECT Father Murphy to a trial," the implication being that the trial was yet to begin and its holding was still uncertain. Then without blinking an eye she goes on to say that "after he [Father Murphy] wrote a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger asking for a CESSATION of the TRIAL," the " efforts" to bring him to trial were 'halted." May I be forgiven for wondering just how a trial that hadn't yet begun could be brought to a "cessation". More to the point she also seems to imply, without quite saying so, that Cardinal Ratszinger commanded the on-going but somehow not yet initiated trial to stop. Point #1: There was a trial. Point #2: What was "halted" was not efforts to bring Father Murphy to trial but the trial itself. Point #3: The trial was halted not at the command of Cardinal Ratzinger but by the decision of the local authority, Archbishop Weakland. Point # 4: All that Cardinal Ratzinger did, months after he had granted authorization for the trial to begin, was to RECOMMEND that the trial be pursued no further in view of Father Murphy's stroke-ravaged health. Not long after Cardinal Ratzinger made this recommendation Father Murphy did in fact die.

The kindest word that I can fmd to describe this sort of reporting is "sloppy". But precisely as "a mess of imprecision", to borrow a phrase from T.S. Eliot, such sloppy reporting can leave behind in the reader's mind an image of Cardinal Ratzinger as a vaguely sinister eminence grise working quietly behind the scenes to thwart justice. Mission accomplished.

And on top of all this comes a report from Der Spiegel (The Mirror), Germany's most popular magazine, to the effect that Father Gerhard Gruber, Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Munich when then Archbishop Ratzinger was charged with the governance of that diocese, had been coerced into publicly assuming responsibility for assigning a supposedly penitent sexual abuser to work in a parish without restriction. Father Gruber immediately repudiated the Spiegel report, but Pope Benedict's reputation had already been damaged.

With the quiet lucidity and careful study of the facts that readers have come to expect from the Wall Street Journal, the Journal provided its own review of Der Spiegel's "scoop". May I share the Journal's assessment with you here.

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Role of Pope's Ex-Deputy In Priest Case Questioned
    By Vanessa Fuhrmans & David Crawford
    From: The Wall Street Journal, Wed. 4/21/2010

The former DEPUTY to Pope Benedict XVI when the pontiff was the Munich archbishop REBUTTED suggestions made in letters written by a friend that he had been PUSHED into taking sole responsibility for reassigning a pedophile priest to active ministry 30 years ago.

The Rev. Gerhard Gruber, in an interview, also DETAILED his decision to reassign the priest to pastoral work just weeks after he was transferred to Munich for therapy because of allegations of sexual abuse in another diocese. The case has captured particular attention since it came to light last month because the pope was archbishop at the time, and the priest was [several years] later convicted of fresh allegations of molesting children.

Publicly, Father Gruber has said little about the matter since a press release was issued last month saying he bore "full responsibility" for reassigning the abusive priest during thepope's tenure as archbishop. Privately, in correspondence with friends, the 81-year-old former vicar general has STOOD BY the press statement...

Earlier this month, a confidant of Father Gruber sent a letter to a small circle of mutual theologian friends raising questions about the circumstances of Father Gruber's statement in the press release. Walter Romahn, a former academic who studied at the same pontifical college in Rome as Father Gruber, wrote that Father Gruber had told him in a phone call that he had been pressured to take sole responsibilityfor the handling of the priest.

Mr. Romahn added in the letter that he was sharing their conversation because he worried his friend was now caught in a "loyalty conflict."

The correspondence, earlier reported by Germany's Der Spiegel, was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Father Gruber, reached at his home in Munich DENIED the assertion that he had said he had been urged or pushed into taking full responsibility for the priest's reassignment.

It was HIS decision, he said, to reassign the priest, the Rev. Peter Hullermann, soon after his arrival in Munich, which he says he discussed and agreed upon with the archdiocese's personnel director at the time, the Rev. Friedrich Fahr, now deceased. "I took the responsibility because I signed the [reassignment] documents," he said. He added that HE DID NOT DISCUSS THE DECISION WITH THE FUTURE POPE, THEN ARCHBISHOP JOSEPH RATZINGER.

Father Gruber sought to explain the decision to reassign Father Hullermann to a local parish soon after he had been transferred to Munich for psychiatric treatment after several parents in the Essen Diocese had alleged he had sexually molested their sons. "It wasn't an automatic decision whatsoever," he said, "but one based on the established preconditions and ASSUMPTIONS AT THE TIME." For a priest who'd done "something terrible, "had expressed regret and was determined to be rehabilitated, "it was common to give them another chance," he said.

That Father Hullermann had been willing to undergo therapy helped to "build the conviction" that he MIGHT be suitable for active ministry again, Father Gruber said. In a letter dated April 8 to his circle of theologian friends, Father Gruber explained that although the therapist assigned to Father Hullermann had spoken of risks, he had also said "a POSITIVE outcome from the therapy COULD NOT BE RULED OUT."....

Father Gruber said that although his friend Mr. Romahn "meant well" by writing the letters, he had partly misunderstood him. Father Gruber said he had described how on March 12, the day he was asked to approve and make any changes to a draft of the archdiocesan press release on the Hullerman incident, he was under "TIME pressure"--but WAS NOT pressured to sign off on something he DIDN'T agree with.
[Emphasis added].

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