Archdiocese of Milwaukee Faces Lawsuit for Fraud in Sex Abuse Case

By Marie Rohde
Journal Sentinel

July 24, 2008

A man who says he was sexually abused in a state school by a Catholic priest with a history of earlier misconduct has filed a fraud lawsuit seeking damages from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

While most lawsuits involving sexual abuse that occurred decades ago are barred by the statute of limitations, the state Supreme Court last year opened the door to some cases, saying the church could be sued if fraud was proved. Those abused must show that church officials were aware of the misconduct and did not warn others.

The new lawsuit was filed by Donald Marshall, an adult living in Wisconsin who was a student at the Lincoln Hills School in the late 1970s when he said he was abused by Father Lawrence Murphy.

Murphy, who died in 1998, was believed to have molested dozens of boys at St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, a residential facility for deaf children where he worked for 24 years.

He was fluent in American Sign Language, a tireless fund-raiser for the school, a respected teacher and beloved by the deaf community.

In 1974, several former students went to authorities with allegations of abuse. Murphy denied the allegations and the police investigation was dropped. No criminal charges were issued because the men were adults and the statute of limitations had expired on prosecuting the crimes.

Several victims later met with then-Archbishop William Cousins. Murphy and others were present. Cousins acknowledged that the church had been aware of the problem for years but that officials felt that Murphy was so important to the school that they did not want to remove him. A short time later, however, he was relieved of teaching and pastoral duties.

Allowed to retire

Murphy later resigned from the school citing health problems after being confronted by a reporter with the abuse allegations. He was allowed to retire and moved to Boulder Junction. He remained a priest and assisted at two parishes in that area until 1994. Church disciplinary proceedings were under way when he died.

In the lawsuit that has been assigned to Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher, Marshall alleged that Murphy had unrestricted access to children at Lincoln Hills in Irma and at St. Anne Catholic Church in Boulder Junction.

The church, the lawsuit contends, "affirmatively represented to minor children and their families" that Murphy did not have a history of molesting children when officials knew otherwise and failed to warn others.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said officials had not seen the complaint and had no comment.



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