The Murphy Case, the Vatican Is Not Responsible

By Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
February 12, 2012

New York Times headquarter

Story of the American pedophile priest closed before the District Court of Wisconsin: the complaints against Ratzinger, Bertone and Sodano have been withdrawn

It was the most emblematic and painful case which made ​​the front page of The New York Times in March 2010, the annus horribilis of the pedophilia scandal: the case of Father Lawrence Murphy - a priest who from 1950 to 1974 worked in a school for deaf children of Milwaukee abusing hundreds of boys - ended Friday, February 10th before the District Court of Wisconsin. The complainants in the case «John Doe 16 v. Holy See» withdrew and did not want a final sentence of acquittal for the Pope and the Cardinals TarcisioBertone and Angelo Sodano, involved in the case for civil damages.

It is an important victory for the Holy See, represented by the lawyer Jeffrey Lena, and a defeat for Jeff Anderson, the owner of the legal firm who had tried, in this and other cases, to have the Vatican compensate victims of abuse. Anderson had tried to obtain jurisdiction over the Holy See and its hierarchies with a theory according to which the responsibility for the actions of an employee may fall not only on his employer (in this case, the diocese of Milwaukee), but also on the Holy See because the Pope can name -and thus, in theory, control - the bishops throughout the world. According to this theory, whoever controls the «employer» must also be responsible for the actions of the worker.

In Murphy's case, the result would have been a sentence of acquittal for the Vatican, that would make law. By withdrawing the complaint, even if this case is finally closed, Anderson hopes to continue to present his thesis at other courts, such as Oregon, where another proceeding is still open. In a few days, the lawyer must deliver to the court all the reasons why that case too should not be filed.

The conclusion of the court case should not obscure the horror of what happened, even though - says the lawyer Lena to Vatican Insider – it means that «the Holy See cannot be responsible fordirectly controlling the actions of over 400,000 priests around the world».

When the story first hit the limelight in March of two years ago, it was written that the then Cardinal Ratzinger, his deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bertone, and the then Secretary of State Sodano had not defrocked «a priest who had molested two hundred deaf boys». Father Murphy, chaplain at the «Saint John's School», was removed in 1974 and was transferred to the Diocese of Superior, where he remained largely withdrawn without being accused of other abuses. «It is clear that it was the responsibility of the Bishops to ensure that he would do no further harm», says the lawyer for the Holy See, Jeffrey Lena.

Only in 1996, the Archbishop of Milwaukee assigned the case to Cardinal Ratzinger, whose department at the time was not qualified for all cases of abuse (it will become so after 2001), but only for those committed during the sacrament of confession. Eight months later Bertone, Ratzinger's deputy, asked the Bishops of Wisconsin to set up a canonical trial. Meanwhile, Murphy had written to Rome, declaring himself repentant and asking that prosecution be avoided due to his poor health conditions. The stand taken by the Vatican at the end of a summit held on May 30, 1998 was to restrict the powers of the priest and to admonish him, threatening that if he did not repent he would be dismissed from his clerical position. Murphy died on August 21st of that same year.

It was already clear from the facts that no liability could be attributed to Ratzinger, Bertone and Sodano, since Murphy's story was acknowledged in Rome only in 1996, shortly before the priest died. Yet this sad and horrible story of abuse has become an occasion for a very strong attack against the Holy See: the Lawyer Anderson, advocate of Father Murphy's victims, in fact said two years ago thatwould have been able to prove in court - as Jeffrey Lena recalls -the existence of «joint action at a global level» related to sexual abuse and directed by the Vatican. he

«On a theory both dated and contradicted - concludes Lena - a sequence of events was created specifically for the media that transformed a very serious matter - sexual violence perpetrated against a child –in an instrument of false statements about the HolySee's alleged liability».


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