|Document Refers to Secret Church Archive with Abuse Files
By Annysa Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
November 4, 2009
Records involving at least one sex-offender priest were maintained in so-called archives at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, according to a document released Wednesday as part of a pending lawsuit. That would call into question testimony by retired Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, who dismissed the notion as "antique" and "Old Testament" in a deposition last year.
"I've heard about it, but I've never seen those files, and I don't know if the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has such things," Weakland said in response to a question about "sub secreto or confidential files."
That appears to contradict earlier testimony by Weakland in a 1993 deposition in which he acknowledged the existence of such files and newly released archdiocesan documents - including one addressed to Weakland - that reference the archives.
The files - their existence and contents - are at the center of several civil fraud cases pending against the Milwaukee archdiocese, which is accused of knowingly transferring sex-offender priests to new posts, where they continued to molest children.
Documents referencing the secret archives were released as part of a new case involving the late Father Lawrence Murphy, who is believed to have molested as many as 200 boys at St. John's School for the Deaf between 1950 and 1974.
They include a 1996 letter from Vice Chancellor James Connell to Weakland saying he'd searched the secret archives and could find no documents pertaining to Murphy; and a 1998 decree by Canon Judge Thomas T. Brundage saying documents related to the Murphy case would be kept in the secret archives for a period dictated by canon law.
"The evidentiary trail is in the files," said St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who obtained the records through the discovery process in another case involving Murphy. "We want to see if they exist, and therefore what they knew about this guy."
Weakland did not return a call seeking comment.
Canon law requires dioceses to maintain so-called secret archives, accessible only by the bishop, for highly sensitive material.
Jerry Topczewski, a spokesman for the archdiocese, likened the files to personnel records and said the terms "secret" and "scandalous" don't carry the same connotation in the church as they do in secular society.
"When we say something creates scandal, it means taking someone away from the faith," Topczewski said. "And secret doesn't mean secret; it's just another form of official file that can be kept for particular reasons."
He said the archdiocese has opened the files to civil authorities in the past.
The Rev. Phillip J. Brown, who teaches canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said he prefers "confidential" to "secret," and he questioned whether the church can be compelled to turn over documents contained there in court.
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