A Window for Accountability
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 27, 2006
[See also the other articles in the feature mentioned below: Shared
Secrets Reveal Much Suffering in Silence, by Mary Zahn, Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel (3/26/06); Staring
Abuse Straight in the Face, by Mary Zahn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
of Settlements for Victims Questioned, by Mary Zahn, Milwaukee Journal
Sentinel (3/26/06); and a Gallery
of Photographs with notes on this feature.]
Sex offenders have gotten a lot of attention from state legislators this
year. But there is seemingly a double standard in favor of clergy who
have been sexual abusers.
The Legislature has been abuzz about a minimum 25-year term for those
who target children and about bills that would limit the placement of
violent sex offenders in Milwaukee County. But far less enthusiasm has
accompanied a bill that would create a one-year window in which victims
of clergy sexual abuse could bring civil lawsuits, regardless of when
the abuse occurred and statutes of limitation.
That must change. Legislators need to read articles in the Journal Sentinel
by Mary Zahn on Sunday and Monday about the pain and suffering endured
by the victims of one priest at St. John's School for the Deaf in St.
Francis. Now grown men, some are coming forward for compensation and closure,
still suffering the lingering effects of abuse at the hands of Father
Lawrence Murphy, a longtime and well-respected fixture at the school.
Murphy died in 1998, so he is immune from earthly accountability. The
concern, however, is for the other Murphys in Wisconsin who could still
be held accountable with this legislation.
When Murphy's abuse was revealed, the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese allowed
Murphy to give up his directorship of the school. He was relieved of duties
that gave him contact with children and was reassigned to other school
duties. He was shielded from criminal prosecution because of the statute
He resigned shortly after for "health reasons" and was allowed
to retire to a home in Boulder Junction. But, according to Zahn's articles,
he assisted two parishes there until 1994, violating restrictions placed
on him. Even after he was warned, he apparently continued to violate these
restrictions. Former Archbishop Rembert Weakland began disciplinary proceedings
against the priest in 1996, but Murphy died before the process was completed.
So how many other Murphys are there, known only to the church? The archdiocese
declined to release records regarding Murphy to the newspaper, citing
victim confidentiality. It would have more difficulty shielding these
documents in the event of civil suits.
Wisconsin is unique in that its Supreme Court has offered some protection
for the Catholic Church on this issue. The bill in question, authored
by Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) would give victims this one-year window
to seek civil redress, anyway.
The issue has always been accountability. Parishioners and the public
generally deserve to know what the church knows about abusive priests
- and when it knew it.