The New York Times on Thursday published fresh allegations that the Catholic Church was more interested in protecting its own reputation than the innocent children placed in its care, adding to the public anger and acute embarrassment already faced by the Church and Pope Benedict XVI.
The paper alleged that two priests in the U.S. state of Wisconsin asked the Vatican's office of the Doctrine of the Faith to allow them to conduct a church trial against a priest accused of sexually abusing some 200 deaf boys at a Catholic school. The request was refused and the trial halted, documents in the possession of the paper reveal. The present Pope, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger thus once again finds himself at the heart of the scandal, since, as head of the office of the Doctrine of the Faith, he was responsible for cases of child abuse.
The priest in question was the Reverend Lawrence Murphy, who worked at the former St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin, from 1950 to 1975.
He died in 1998. His alleged victims were not limited to the deaf boys' school. Several other witnesses have come forth to denounce abuse at the hands of Murphy and their testimony shows that the priest continued to molest boys even after he reportedly repented and was moved out of the school.
Donald Marshall (45) of Wisconsin said he was abused by Reverend Murphy when he was a teenager at the Lincoln Hills School, a juvenile detention centre in Irma in northern Wisconsin.
On Thursday, a group of abuse victims provided the documentation to reporters outside the Vatican, where they staged a press conference to denounce the handling of the case. The documents show the Church's determination to keep the case secret.
They also indicate, however, that Bishops were attentive to the anguish of the deaf community and its desire to force a canonical trial against Reverend Murphy. However, Cardinal Ratzinger's deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, shut the process down after Reverend Murphy wrote him a letter in 1996 saying he had repented, was old and ailing, and that the case's statute of limitations had run out. The priest died two years later.
“The goal of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was to keep this secret,” said Peter Isely, Milwaukee-based director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
“This is the most incontrovertible case of paedophilia you could get. We need to know why the Pope did not let us know about Murphy and why he didn't let the police know about him and why he did not condemn him and why he did not take his collar away from him.”
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement noting that the case had only reached the Vatican in 1996, that Reverend Murphy died two years later, and that there was nothing in the church's handling of the matter that precluded any civil action from being taken against him.
(With inputs from agencies.)