Benedict's Involvement Portrayed Inaccurately

By Caleb Palmquist
The Daily Evergreen
September 30, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI was accused earlier this year of preventing a priest who had sexually abused minors from facing penalties. Irresponsible journalism and gross misjudgments cast the pope in a foul light. For Benedict, born as Joseph Ratzinger, these accusations could not be further from the truth.

While there are without a doubt real cases of abuse within the Catholic Church, Benedict does not deserve the blame for said abuses, nor has he attempted to prevent the prosecution of abusers. To the contrary, Benedict has been a crusader for harsher punishment of offenders and spearheaded the movement in 2001 to require bishops to report incidents of abuse to the Vatican.

In 1980, Benedict accepted an invitation from Pope John Paul II to take over as the prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the office responsible for dealing with policy on issues like sexual abuse within the church. In 2002, he was elected as the dean of the College of Cardinals, and in 2005, following the death of Pope John Paul II, he was elected pope.

Father Lawrence Murphy of St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee was charged with sexual abuse by a former student in 1974. Later that year, Murphy was quietly removed from his office and relocated to northern Wisconsin, where he lived with his mother without any official assignment until his death in 1998.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland was responsible for the Murphy case from his appointment as Archbishop of Milwaukee in 1977 to the date of Murphy's death in 1998. Weakland did not act on the case until 1996 19 years after the fact. It was not until the threat of a lawsuit became prevalent that Weakland wrote to Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) in 1996 concerning the issue.

It is important to note that Weakland is easily the most disgraced bishop in the United States. He is guilty of spending up to $450,000 of archdiocesan money in response to blackmail from a former homosexual lover, and has a history of mishandling abuse cases. He resigned in 2002 after his crimes became public.

Weakland chose to pursue a canonical trial against Murphy. He wrote to Benedict, claiming to have found new evidence, which in fact had been on record since the original report in 1974. Until 2001, the local bishop had the authority to proceed with trials against priests accused of abuse. Benedict's failure to respond to Weakland's letter did not in any way impede the process of the trial.

According to The New York Times, Weakland said he recalled a meeting at the Vatican in May 1998 in which he "failed to persuade Cardinal Bertone and other doctrinal officials to grant a canonical trial to defrock Father Murphy." This statement is irrelevant, as Weakland had authority at that time to go ahead with the trial under canonical law. Because of his own abuses and his gross failure to handle the issue in a timely fashion, he may not be a reliable source.

In the Murphy case, the lack of adequate response from Weakland represents a pattern of failures within the Catholic Church that Benedict has worked to correct. Even in publications as prominent as The New York Times, stories are subject to misrepresentation based on faulty or incomplete information. The reader should take care to fully understand an issue before forming an opinion.

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