Cardinal Levada, and others, stand up for the Pope and for the Truth

Over recent days we have seen a flurry of reporting on the involvement of the Holy See and the Pope (particularly before he was elected) in child abuse cases.  Two in particular have been cited as of significance: one in the USA and one in Germany.  The former is particularly shocking in its extent and as regards the laxity with which the Archbishop of the time, Rembert Weakland, dealt with it.  However, a number of important pieces have been published recently which undermine the interpretation of the New York Times and the subsequent reports (of the BBC and others) based upon it.  Of these, perhaps the most significant is the account of the Judicial Vicar of the diocese of Milwaukee at the time of the Murphy affair cited by the NYT.  Fr. Thomas Brundage, JCL was Judicial Vicar between 1995 and 2003 and so was immediately involved with the Canonical trial which the NYT reported the Pope (as Cardinal Ratzinger) had ordered abated (he had not done so, in fact).  Of course, we are already aware from the correspondence that any decision to abate the trial was made in order that immediate action could be taken against Murphy and because it was very likely he would be dead before any formal procedure was completed.  But Fr. Brundage makes it clear that he had not received any instruction to abate the trial and that he would, in fact, have been opposed to it.  He makes the point quite clearly that this means Murphy was still the “defendent in a criminal Church trial” at the time of his death.  Quite the contrary of the wild reporting we have been reading of late.  Fr. Brundage’s full article can be read here; but I reproduce it below too:

Setting the Record Straight in the case of abusive Milwaukee Priest Fr. Lawrence Murphy

To provide context to this article, I was the Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1995-2003. During those years, I presided over four canonical criminal cases, one of which involved Father Lawrence Murphy. Two of the four men died during the process. God alone will judge these men.

To put some parameters on the following remarks, I am writing this article with the express knowledge and consent of Archbishop Roger Schwietz, OMI, of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently serve. Archbishop Schwietz is also the publisher of the Catholic Anchor newspaper.

I will limit my comments, because of judicial oaths I have taken as a canon lawyer and as an ecclesiastical judge. However, since my name and comments in the matter of the Father Murphy case have been liberally and often inaccurately quoted in the New York Times and in more than 100 other newspapers and on-line periodicals, I feel a freedom to tell part of the story of Father Murphy’s trial from ground zero.

As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing from a sense of duty to the truth.

The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself.

My intent in writing this column is to accomplish the following:

To tell the back-story of what actually happened in the Father Murphy case on the local level;

To outline the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New York Times and other media outlets;

To assert that Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope or bishop in history to rid the Catholic Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and provide for those who have been injured;

To set the record straight with regards to the efforts made by the church to heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual misconduct. The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history.

Before proceeding, it is important to point out the scourge that child sexual abuse has been — not only for the church but for society as well. Few actions can distort a child’s life more than sexual abuse. It is a form of emotional and spiritual homicide and it starts a trajectory toward a skewed sense of sexuality. When committed by a person in authority, it creates a distrust of almost anyone, anywhere.

As a volunteer prison chaplain in Alaska, I have found a corollary between those who have been incarcerated for child sexual abuse and the priests who have committed such grievous actions. They tend to be very smart and manipulative. They tend to be well liked and charming. They tend to have one aim in life — to satisfy their hunger. Most are highly narcissistic and do not see the harm that they have caused. They view the children they have abused not as people but as objects. They rarely show remorse and moreover, sometimes portray themselves as the victims. They are, in short, dangerous people and should never be trusted again. Most will recommit their crimes if given a chance.

As for the numerous reports about the case of Father Murphy, the back-story has not been reported as of yet.

In 1996, I was introduced to the story of Father Murphy, formerly the principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. It had been common knowledge for decades that during Father Murphy’s tenure at the school (1950-1974) there had been a scandal at St. John’s involving him and some deaf children. The details, however, were sketchy at best.

Courageous advocacy on behalf of the victims (and often their wives), led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to revisit the matter in 1996. In internal discussions of the curia for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, it became obvious that we needed to take strong and swift action with regard to the wrongs of several decades ago. With the consent of then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, we began an investigation into the allegations of child sexual abuse as well as the violation of the crime of solicitation within the confessional by Father Murphy.

We proceeded to start a trial against Father Murphy. I was the presiding judge in this matter and informed Father Murphy that criminal charges were going to be levied against him with regard to child sexual abuse and solicitation in the confessional.

In my interactions with Father Murphy, I got the impression I was dealing with a man who simply did not get it. He was defensive and threatening.

Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.

I also met with a community board of deaf Catholics. They insisted that Father Murphy should be removed from the priesthood and highly important to them was their request that he be buried not as a priest but as a layperson. I indicated that a judge, I could not guarantee the first request and could only make a recommendation to the latter request.

In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition at the chancery in Milwaukee. I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could travel not more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home

With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”

The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.

Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.

Third, the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court. When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Fourth, Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.

Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children. There have been very few cases of recent sexual abuse of children by clergy during the last decade or more.

Catholic dioceses all across the country have taken extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. As one example, which is by no means unique, is in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently work. Here, virtually every public bathroom in parishes has a sign asking if a person has been abuse by anyone in the church. A phone number is given to report the abuse and almost all church workers in the archdiocese are required to take yearly formation sessions in safe environment classes. I am not sure what more the church can do.

To conclude, the events during the 1960’s and 1970’s of the sexual abuse of minors and solicitation in the confessional by Father Lawrence Murphy are unmitigated and gruesome crimes. On behalf of the church, I am deeply sorry and ashamed for the wrongs that have been done by my brother priests but realize my sorrow is probably of little importance 40 years after the fact. The only thing that we can do at this time is to learn the truth, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever is humanly possible to heal the wounds. The rest, I am grateful, is in God’s hands.

Father Thomas T. Brundage, JCL

Today it is also possible to read an article by William Cardinal Levada, explaining the exact impact of the 2001 Motu Proprio of Pope John Paul II and the often misunderstood (even by canonists, if my own PP is anything to go by) instruction issued by the CDF in the wake of it.  Cardinal Levada makes the point that many others have made: Pope Benedict, both before and since his election, has worked tirelessly against the evil of abuse and has done more than any other Church leader to ensure that cases are dealt with effectively, swiftly, and justly.  It can be read on the website of Catholic San Francisco, but I reproduce his article here:

The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI:
how it looks to an American in the Vatican

By Cardinal William J. Levada
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

In our melting pot of peoples, languages and backgrounds, Americans are not noted as examples of “high” culture. But we can take pride as a rule in our passion for fairness. In the Vatican where I currently work, my colleagues – whether fellow cardinals at meetings or officials in my office – come from many different countries, continents and cultures. As I write this response today (March 26, 2010) I have had to admit to them that I am not proud of America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness.

I say this because today’s Times presents both a lengthy article by Laurie Goodstein, a senior columnist, headlined “Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest,” and an accompanying editorial entitled “The Pope and the Pedophilia Scandal,” in which the editors call the Goodstein article a disturbing report (emphasis in original) as a basis for their own charges against the Pope. Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting.

In her lead paragraph, Goodstein relies on what she describes as “newly unearthed files” to point out what the Vatican (i.e. then Cardinal Ratzinger and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) did not do – “defrock Fr. Murphy.” Breaking news, apparently. Only after eight paragraphs of purple prose does Goodstein reveal that Fr. Murphy, who criminally abused as many as 200 deaf children while working at a school in the Milwaukee Archdiocese from 1950 to 1974, “not only was never tried or disciplined by the church’s own justice system, but also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims, according to the documents and interviews with victims.”

But in paragraph 13, commenting on a statement of Fr. Lombardi (the Vatican spokesman) that Church law does not prohibit anyone from reporting cases of abuse to civil authorities, Goodstein writes, “He did not address why that had never happened in this case.” Did she forget, or did her editors not read, what she wrote in paragraph nine about Murphy getting “a pass from the police and prosecutors”? By her own account it seems clear that criminal authorities had been notified, most probably by the victims and their families.

Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996. Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial.

The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others.

It seems to me, on the other hand, that we owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors. These efforts began when the Pope served as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and continued after he was elected Pope. That the Times has published a series of articles in which the important contribution he has made – especially in the development and implementation of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, the Motu proprio issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 – is ignored, seems to me to warrant the charge of lack of fairness which should be the hallmark of any reputable newspaper.

Let me tell you what I think a fair reading of the Milwaukee case would seem to indicate. The reasons why church and civil authorities took no action in the 1960’s and 70’s is apparently not contained in these “newly emerged files.” Nor does the Times seem interested in finding out why. But what does emerge is this: after almost 20 years as Archbishop, Weakland wrote to the Congregation asking for help in dealing with this terrible case of serial abuse. The Congregation approved his decision to undertake a canonical trial, since the case involved solicitation in confession – one of the graviora delicta (most grave crimes) for which the Congregation had responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action.

Only when it learned that Murphy was dying did the Congregation suggest to Weakland that the canonical trial be suspended, since it would involve a lengthy process of taking testimony from a number of deaf victims from prior decades, as well as from the accused priest. Instead it proposed measures to ensure that appropriate restrictions on his ministry be taken. Goodstein infers that this action implies “leniency” toward a priest guilty of heinous crimes. My interpretation would be that the Congregation realized that the complex canonical process would be useless if the priest were dying. Indeed, I have recently received an unsolicited letter from the judicial vicar who was presiding judge in the canonical trial telling me that he never received any communication about suspending the trial, and would not have agreed to it. But Fr. Murphy had died in the meantime. As a believer, I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.

Goodstein also refers to what she calls “other accusations” about the reassignment of a priest who had previously abused a child/children in another diocese by the Archdiocese of Munich. But the Archdiocese has repeatedly explained that the responsible Vicar General, Mons. Gruber, admitted his mistake in making that assignment. It is anachronistic for Goodstein and the Times to imply that the knowledge about sexual abuse that we have in 2010 should have somehow been intuited by those in authority in 1980. It is not difficult for me to think that Professor Ratzinger, appointed as Archbishop of Munich in 1977, would have done as most new bishops do: allow those already in place in an administration of 400 or 500 people to do the jobs assigned to them.

As I look back on my own personal history as a priest and bishop, I can say that in 1980 I had never heard of any accusation of such sexual abuse by a priest. It was only in 1985, as an Auxiliary Bishop attending a meeting of our U.S. Bishops’ Conference where data on this matter was presented, that I became aware of some of the issues. In 1986, when I was appointed Archbishop in Portland, I began to deal personally with accusations of the crime of sexual abuse, and although my “learning curve” was rapid, it was also limited by the particular cases called to my attention.

Here are a few things I have learned since that time: many child victims are reluctant to report incidents of sexual abuse by clergy. When they come forward as adults, the most frequent reason they give is not to ask for punishment of the priest, but to make the bishop and personnel director aware so that other children can be spared the trauma that they have experienced.

In dealing with priests, I learned that many priests, when confronted with accusations from the past, spontaneously admitted their guilt. On the other hand, I also learned that denial is not uncommon. I have found that even programs of residential therapy have not succeeded in breaking through such denial in some cases. Even professional therapists did not arrive at a clear diagnosis in some of these cases; often their recommendations were too vague to be helpful. On the other hand, therapists have been very helpful to victims in dealing with the long-range effects of their childhood abuse. In both Portland and San Francisco where I dealt with issues of sexual abuse, the dioceses always made funds available (often through diocesan insurance coverage) for therapy to victims of sexual abuse.

From the point of view of ecclesiastical procedures, the explosion of the sexual abuse question in the United States led to the adoption, at a meeting of the Bishops’ Conference in Dallas in 2002, of a “Charter for the Protection of Minors from Sexual Abuse.” This Charter provides for uniform guidelines on reporting sexual abuse, on structures of accountability (Boards involving clergy, religious and laity, including experts), reports to a national Board, and education programs for parishes and schools in raising awareness and prevention of sexual abuse of children. In a number of other countries similar programs have been adopted by Church authorities: one of the first was adopted by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in response to the Nolan Report made by a high-level commission of independent experts in 2001.

It was only in 2001, with the publication of Pope John Paul II’s Motu proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (SST), that responsibility for guiding the Catholic Church’s response to the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clerics was assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This papal document was prepared for Pope John Paul II under the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Contrary to some media reports, SST did not remove the local bishop’s responsibility for acting in cases of reported sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Nor was it, as some have theorized, part of a plot from on high to interfere with civil jurisdiction in such cases. Instead, SST directs bishops to report credible allegations of abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is able to provide a service to the bishops to ensure that cases are handled properly, in accord with applicable ecclesiastical law.

Here are some of the advances made by this new Church legislation (SST). It has allowed for a streamlined administrative process in arriving at a judgment, thus reserving the more formal process of a canonical trial to more complex cases. This has been of particular advantage in missionary and small dioceses that do not have a strong complement of well-trained canon lawyers. It provides for erecting inter-diocesan tribunals to assist small dioceses. The Congregation has faculties allowing it derogate from the prescription of a crime (statute of limitations) in order to permit justice to be done even for “historical” cases. Moreover, SST has amended canon law in cases of sexual abuse to adjust the age of a minor to 18 to correspond with the civil law in many countries today. It provides a point of reference for bishops and religious superiors to obtain uniform advice about handling priests’ cases. Perhaps most of all, it has designated cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics as graviora delicta: most grave crimes, like the crimes against the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance perennially assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This in itself has shown the seriousness with which today’s Church undertakes its responsibility to assist bishops and religious superiors to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, and to punish them when they happen. Here is a legacy of Pope Benedict that greatly facilitates the work of the Congregation which I now have the privilege to lead, to the benefit of the entire Church.

After the Dallas Charter in 2002, I was appointed (at the time as Archbishop of San Francisco) to a team of four bishops to seek approval of the Holy See for the “Essential Norms” that the American Bishops developed to allow us to deal with abuse questions. Because these norms intersected with existing canon law, they required approval before being implemented as particular law for our country. Under the chairmanship of Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and currently President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, our team worked with Vatican canonical experts at several meetings. We found in Cardinal Ratzinger, and in the experts he assigned to meet with us, a sympathetic understanding of the problems we faced as American bishops. Largely through his guidance we were able to bring our work to a successful conclusion.

The Times editorial wonders “how Vatican officials did not draw the lessons of the grueling scandal in the United States, where more than 700 priests were dismissed over a three-year period.” I can assure the Times that the Vatican in reality did not then and does not now ignore those lessons. But the Times editorial goes on to show the usual bias: “But then we read Laurie Goodstein’s disturbing report . . .about how the pope, while he was still a cardinal, was personally warned about a priest … But church leaders chose to protect the church instead of children. The report illuminated the kind of behavior the church was willing to excuse to avoid scandal.” Excuse me, editors. Even the Goodstein article, based on “newly unearthed files,” places the words about protecting the Church from scandal on the lips of Archbishop Weakland, not the pope. It is just this kind of anachronistic conflation that I think warrants my accusation that the Times, in rushing to a guilty verdict, lacks fairness in its coverage of Pope Benedict.

As a full-time member of the Roman Curia, the governing structure that carries out the Holy See’s tasks, I do not have time to deal with the Times’s subsequent almost daily articles by Rachel Donadio and others, much less with Maureen Dowd’s silly parroting of Goodstein’s “disturbing report.” But about a man with and for whom I have the privilege of working, as his “successor” Prefect, a pope whose encyclicals on love and hope and economic virtue have both surprised us and made us think, whose weekly catecheses and Holy Week homilies inspire us, and yes, whose pro-active work to help the Church deal effectively with the sexual abuse of minors continues to enable us today, I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on.

Yet, have we seen much of this in the press?  On the contrary the BBC website, and their flagship news programme Newsnight, chose instead to feature the troubled singer Sinead O’Connor who has not only had herself ‘ordained’ (and thereby incurred a latae sententiae excommunication) and declared herself “a dyke” but has also a long, complicated relationship with the Church.  Touted as a spokeswoman for Catholic laity in Ireland and elsewhere, particularly of women Catholics (I can tell you my sister was particularly incensed at this), she was given a rather soft ride by Gavin Essler; despite that, Austen Iverleigh (often maligned in some traddie circles) acquitted himself very well and spoke clearly and concisely about the facts of the Church’s action in dealing with abuse and strongly in defence of Pope Benedict.  Only on the BBC’s light review of the press The Media Show (7’20”) has any of this been mentioned and that certainly does not equate to the coverage in other outlets.

Of course it is important to accept the horrors of the abuses of the past and to ensure (so far is possible in a fallen world) that no children in the care of the Church are harmed by Catholic priests, bishops or lay people.  However, it is also essential that we do not allow lies in the press and other media to overwhelm the truth.  It is important that we Catholics stand up for the truth about our beloved Holy Father, too: that he is an important part of the “solution” (as people say) to the problem, and not the problem itself.  We must, indeed, fight for Christ and His Vicar and pray for him constantly with great fervour during this most Holy Season.

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