Boston Memo Sheds Light on Murphy

By Joseph Mallia
February 13, 2003

Boston -- Uniformed officers ushered visitors away from the grand jury room where Bishop William F. Murphy, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre and a former top cleric here, was scheduled Wednesday to answer questions about whether Boston church officials broke the law by shielding pedophile priests.

The Rockville Centre diocese said it could not confirm whether Murphy testified at the courthouse but said the bishop had been in Boston since at least Monday to prepare for his scheduled testimony. Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly is examining theories that the Boston hierarchy may have acted as accessories to the sexual abuse of minors because under their supervision suspected priests continued to molest.

Two floors down from the grand jury chamber in the county Superior Court, a new batch of once-secret church documents was released by court order. Among them was the confidential file of the Rev. James McDonald, accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl.

Added to the more than 40,000 pages of documents already made public, a memo from McDonald's file provided another glimpse of Murphy's role in how the diocese responded to sexual abuse complaints. The memo, written by a subordinate church official, detailed the way Murphy and others dealt with demands of a woman who had allegedly been molested as a child by a Boston priest. The woman had threatened to disrupt an accused priest's funeral Mass unless Cardinal Bernard Law, then the archbishop, reversed his decision to celebrate the Stoughton, Mass., funeral. Law, who at one point had been inclined not to celebrate the funeral, ultimately did so. The decision was that "Fr. McDonald is entitled to a Christian burial and that the Cardinal would be there," the memo said.

"I spoke to Bishop Murphy," said the memo, written by another priest also named William F. Murphy, 17 years younger than the bishop and of far lower rank. "He said he feels the Cardinal should not back down to the threat ... "

"He suggested the Stoughton Police be contacted if the Cardinal is going to be at the funeral," said the March 10, 1999, memo, written two days after the funeral and placed in McDonald's confidential file at the Boston archdiocese.

The memo described the accuser's frame of mind before the priest's funeral. "She was extremely upset that Fr. McDonald was having a public funeral and that Cardinal Law was going to be celebrant," said the memo. "She said she would not have control over what might take place at the funeral if the Cardinal was the celebrant. I asked if she were threatening to disrupt the funeral and she said it wasn't a threat, it was a fact."

The younger Murphy said he had asked Cardinal Law not to follow his initial inclination to withdraw from the funeral.

Overall, the public records show that Bishop Murphy, as Cardinal Bernard Law's top deputy in Boston for almost eight years, was involved in handling almost one-third of the priest sexual abuse cases at the heart of the scandal there.

"I believe he was part of the network of people who kept shuffling priests around. He knew what was going on. Murphy was part of it," Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who represents dozens of those who have accused Boston priests of molesting them as children, said in an impromptu news conference at Suffolk Superior Court in Boston Wednesday. "His role was to continue to shuffle priests around, keeping it quiet, and not telling the parents, and trying to silence it," Garabedian said.

In the Long Island Catholic, the newspaper of the Rockville Centre diocese, Murphy Wednesday responded to some of the criticism he has faced in recent weeks for his leadership in Boston and in the diocese he now runs. "I have been accused directly and by innuendo of having been guilty of acting inappropriately in handling clergy sexual issues in Boston," Murphy wrote. "Difficult as it is for me to have to defend myself, I must tell you that there is no evidence of that and, in fact, the opposite is the truth."


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