I heard of the unbelievable case of Father Lawrence Murphy many years ago, but didn’t think that much about it until an article was published in the New York Times last week. No stone was left unturned. Finally people can awaken to the gravity of this unresolved case. It’s been known since 1955 that this priest at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Wisconsin was a sexual predator, but it’s been hushed up for all these years. Why is this so?
The ice was broken by a New York Times article, Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys by Laurie Goodstein, published last Wednesday, March 24th. Along with the article The Times published 24 documents associated with the Father Murphy case. Now for the first time the public can see for themselves primary evidence of how one of the most heinous cases of child abuse was covered up by the Catholic Church.
These documents are a revealing gut-shot of the slowly grinding bureaucratic wheels of the Catholic Church. The Times obtained these crucial documents from attorneys for five men who were abused by Father Murphy. It was 1996 before Archbishop Weakland petitioned the Vatican to consider this serious case. Matters of abuse by priests were handled by a department at the Vatican called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Doctrine of the Faith was headed up by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, our future Pope Benedict XVI.
A meticulous reading of these church documents is necessary to understand just how Father Murphy was able to avoid a defrocking. One senses that the Doctrine of the Faith was never aware of how urgent this matter truly was. I urge you to start off by examining the “wanted” posters (produced in 1974) with Father Murphy’s face, that were distributed by outraged deaf students outside the cathedral of Milwaukee. (page 4 of The Document Trail: Lawrence C. Murphy)
‘MOST WANTED! MOST WANTED! The Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy’. Study this shocking poster most carefully. This is a splash of cold water in the face of every Catholic. The context of this poster was a meeting with the Archbishop of Milwaukee, William E. Cousins, and John Conway (a representative for the victims), who wanted to show the Archbishop 15 to 20 affidavits of former students abused by Father Murphy.
At this meeting nothing was done about Father Murphy. He remained in his job because he was considered too valuable in his fund raising efforts. The posters were created after this ridiculous ruling. (The New York Times-For Half a Century, Deaf Boys Raised Alarm on Priest’s Abuse by Laurie Goodstein and David Callender-March 27, 2010)
Not that you should skip over any of these documents, but it’s absolutely mandatory for you to dissect the original letter (page 29-July 17, 1996: Milwaukee Archbishop writes to Cardinal Ritzinger) written in 1996 by Milwaukee’s archbishop, Rembert G. Weakland. Weakland emphasizes the seriousness of this case. Father Murphy was “accused of solicitations of a penitent so as to commit a sin against the six commandant of the Decalogue (c. 1387).” This means he was molesting children in the confession booth. It took the Vatican office eight months to respond to his letter, a plea for help from the highest authority.
Continue scrutinizing these documents. Now you come to page 54, (January 12, 1998: Father Murphy Appeals to Cardinal Ratzinger) which is Father Murphy’s own appeal to the CDF. The Padre writes a very good letter, I applaud his rhetorical skills. Murphy argues for his case’s dismissal, since the statute of limitations had run out already; it had been twenty-five years since the alleged abuses had taken place. The CDF follows a code called the 1962 Norms, which states that a charge of solicitation should be brought against the offender at least one month after it occurred.
The final plea of the letter is moving; the Father says he is in bad health and simply wants to live out his life in peace. The letter must have moved Vatican officials as well, for they decided to drop the proceeding, which were some type of secret canonical trial at the local level, which could result in Father Murphy’s dismissal from the priesthood. Here’s one passage from the Father’s persuasive letter.
“I am seventy-two years of age, your Eminence, and am in poor health. I have just recently suffered another stroke which has left me in a weakened state. I have followed all the directives of both Archbishop Cousins and now Archbishop Weakland. I have repented of any of my past transgressions, and have been living peaceably in northern Wisconsin for twenty-four years. I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood. I ask your kind assistance in this matter.”
Father Murphy died on August 21, 1998 and with his death the Milwaukee Archbishop Weakland wrote to the Vatican to suggest closing the case. The final document worthy of your consideration is page 81, September 28, 1998: Vatican Considers Case Closed.
The motives of both the archbishop and the Vatican were to brush this dirt under the rug. But this was not to be. “This Discastery commends Father Murphy to the mercy of God. And shares with you the hope that the Church will be spared any undue publicity from this matter.”
Peter Isley says that this case of abused boys is an example of the worse possible sin that a priest could ever commit, since the ‘rape’ happened in a confession booth. Peter said this “is as bad as it can get and it went as high as you can get.”
Here’s a further scathing statement of Peter Isley’s: “They determined that this priest would remain in ministry, they did not even order him out of ministry, they did not alert anyone in the archdiocese to what he had done. They allowed this man, this predator, to die honorably as a priest.”
Moreover, many of the victims of Father Murphy are issuing detailed statements of his abuse, which has been hushed up for a half century. Another piece in The New York Times, The Words of a Victim, an interview with reporter David Callender, revealed Steven Geier’s account of those dark days at St. John’s School for the Deaf.
His opinion of the Catholic Church is now totally negative. “The Catholic Church as a whole did nothing to help me. There was no support system for me. And it didn’t feel good. It’s a church. Come on.” Steven now has nothing but contempt for the Catholic Church.
Another victim, Arthur Budzinski, has been speaking out for more than thirty years, but his pain is just now being heard. Budzinski was first abused when he was just 12, and this was in 1960. Arthur explains something of Murphy’s MO, in terms of how he was able to pull off these crimes.
“If he was a real mean guy, I would have stayed away. But he was so friendly, and so nice and understanding. I knew he was wrong, but I couldn’t really believe it.” Mr. Budzinski was a member of this group of deaf students who passed out leaflets that portrayed the black sheep priest as: ‘Most Wanted!’
These are only two of the victims. There are more than 200 of them. In the final analysis, Father Murphy was never defrocked of his priestly vestments. At his death he was suppose to have been buried in a private ceremony with a closed casket. Instead, it was a public funeral with an open casket. And Father Murphy, in death, was fully dressed in his priestly garbs. And even Bishop Richard Sklba, in his graveside remarks, praised the father’s good works here on earth.
What do I take away from this lengthy episode of unfathomable negligence? Nothing happened! The local church did not believe these things really occurred. Civil authorities discounted the allegations also. After too much time they can scream ‘the statute of limitations’ comes in play, too late poor little altar boys! Murphy gets away with it, but just a minute, Padre!
As I was walking around the Austin Convention Center yesterday, a very curious reflection came to mind. Way back in the early 1950s, when F.M. began his crime spree, it must have dawned on him that he could get away with these crimes. After all, he was a priest and understood the system. He knew then that the Church would always bury it. Sweep it under the rug. Therefore, he knew that this deaf school was a perfect environment to perpetrate this scam.
F.M.is easily one of the evilest culprits to ever walk amongst men. To garner the sacred cloak, to give communion, to hear confession, then to freely indulge in misdeeds that defile God’s utmost trust. And equally as foul, is the cover-up by the Church, who somehow gave a green light to F.M., who knew oh so well how to play this well oiled machine. But now all is known; a day of reckoning has finally come for the tortured souls of the abused.
Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys by Laurie Goodstein. The Document Trail: Lawrence C. Murphy is linked inside.