Bishop Rebuts 'Faulty' Charges

By Rita Ciolli and Joseph Mallia
February 13, 2004

Issuing a detailed rebuttal to the latest challenge to his leadership, Bishop William Murphy said yesterday that he had done nothing "legally or ethically wrong" during his tenure as the second in command of the Archdiocese of Boston.

In a point-by-point response to Laura Ahearn, the executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, Murphy said her "false and faulty allegation" was distracting from the church's work of preaching the Gospel. In his defense, Murphy said Ahearn's "indiscriminate confusion" of him with another priest named William Murphy, who had day-to-day responsibility for dealing with accused priests, "is the most glaring but not the only example of her incomplete, faulty and mistaken research."

Ahearn responded last night at a Voice of the Faithful meeting in Manhasset, where she got a standing ovation from more than 300 people after repeating her assertions about Murphy's involvement. "The facts and the documents speak for themselves," Ahearn said before contrasting Murphy's statements with court records.

On Wednesday, Ahearn held a news conference saying Murphy had misled Long Island Catholics about whether he protected predator priests in Boston before being named head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 2001. She called for local Catholics to donate directly to Catholic causes and not to the diocese. This comes as the diocese's annual fund-raising appeal has just begun.

Ahearn's charges reverberated Wednesday as victims' groups and Catholics who want Murphy to step aside began making plans to hold demonstrations this spring outside St. Agnes Cathedral. Ahearn's refocusing of the spotlight on Boston also comes as Murphy is scheduled to meet today with a committee of priests to resolve issues the priests have with Murphy's leadership on Long Island. The meeting is a follow-up to the extraordinary session in January where 200 diocesan priests aired their concerns to the bishop.

In his two and half page statement, Murphy makes the distinction that, as second in command to Cardinal Bernard Law for eight years, he got involved in the cases of abuse priests late in the process, if at all.

"My role in this was peripheral, responding to questions when my opinion was asked, and, at times, handling the resolution of priests after their future had been determined in such a way that my role was to try to convince them that they should seek laicization after they no longer were allowed to function as priests," he wrote.

"The only conclusion that can be drawn is that what I have said from the beginning is accurate, honest and true. I was not involved in the handling of priests who had been accused of the abuse of minors, in any part of their being removed from parish ministry or being reassigned to parish ministry."

A Newsday examination last year of more than 40,000 pages of Boston court documents showed that Bishop Murphy - not his subordinate of the same name - was involved in almost one-third of the priest sexual abuse cases at the heart of the scandal there. Not only did Murphy supervise the assignment of priests, he was privy to all confidential records on accusers' complaints, treatment and settlements. And a Massachusetts attorney general's grand jury report last summer said Bishop Murphy - not the subordinate - helped administer complaints from 402 victims alleging abuse by 191 priests. In all but one case Murphy did not report abuse allegations to the police or advise doing so.

New Boston church documents released last month show Murphy took part in a 1996 effort to discourage the families of five Wisconsin altar boys from pursuing criminal charges against the Rev. Thomas Dempsey, a priest who had been transferred to Boston, by having him apologize to the families, court records show.

The attempt failed and Dempsey pleaded guilty in 1997 in a Wisconsin court to one sexual molestation charge, in exchange for a prosecutor dropping four identical charges, the Boston documents show.


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