Archdiocese Priest Writes Love Letter to Seventh-Grade Boy

By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
March 28, 2012

Father Joseph Okonski had a pained look on his face. The veteran priest was telling a jury how back in 1995, he walked into the bedroom of his rectory roommate, Father Michael Murtha, and discovered a trove of pornographic magazines and videos.

"Certainly, I was disturbed by it," the priest told the jury Wednesday. The porn was being mailed to the rectory of St. Anselm's Church in Northeast Philadelphia in plan wrappers. The priest played one video. "It was sado-masochistic male-on-male pornography," he testified.

The priest reported the porn to the pastor of St. Anselm's, but he didn't do anything about it, Father Okonski told the jury. Then, Father Okonski made a second visit to Father Murtha's bedroom and discovered in a closet a love letter Father Murtha had written to a seventh-grade boy.

"Dear [name redacted]," Father Murtha wrote. "You are so cute ... would you like it if I sucked your dick? I bet you would." In the letter, which was displayed to the jury, Father Murtha told the seventh grader that he wanted to kiss his nipples, and that he got hot thinking about the boy's father spanking the boy's "cute ass." If the seventh-grader decided he wanted to take the priest up on his offer of fellatio, the priest wrote, the boy should leave a letter behind the bulletin board where the parish school advertised the student of the week.

The letter from the archdiocese priest was signed, your "secret lover."

This time, Father Okonski made a copy of the letter and grabbed a pornographic video. He sent them to Monsignor Charles Devlin, vicar for parishes in North Philadelphia.

What was the outcome of Father Okonski blowing the whistle on his roommate?

"Mike Murtha was called downtown" to see Msgr. William J. Lynn, Father Okonski told the jury. Murtha wound up being evaluated at St. John Vianney Center. Father Murtha told his superiors that the love letter was just a fantasy he never sent.

"He was sorry for his behavior," Father Okonski told the jury. "He was sorry he wrote the letter. He was embarrassed."

After being evaluated at St. John Vianney, Father Murtha was transferred to two more parishes with schools, without any warnings to parishioners. Father Michael Dilorio told the jury Wednesday how Father Murtha served as assistant parochial vicar at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Levittown.

Did Father Dilorio know that Father Murtha had any past problems with pornography, the prosecutor asked.

"No," Father Dilorio testified.

Did Father Dilorio know that Father Murtha had undergone psychiatric evaluation at St. John Vianney?

"No," Father Dilorio testified.

Did the archdiocese place any restrictions on Father Murtha while he was at St. Michael's?

"No," Father Dilorio testified.

Then the business manager at St. Michael's discovered some porno movies on a parish cable bill. Father Murtha's computer was seized.

But Father Murtha wasn't finished as a parish priest. Father Henry J. McKee, pastor of Sacred Hearth Church in Havertown, was called to the witness stand. He testified that in 2002, he got a call from Msgr. William J. Lynn. The monsignor wanted to know if Father McKee would accept Father Murtha as as assistant parochial vicar.

"I had lost my assistant," Father McKee testified. "I was all by myself."

Monsignor Lynn did not mention that Father Murtha had any past problems with pornography, Father McKee testified. The monsignor also didn't mention that love letter to the seventh grader.

"I called back and said, I'll give it a go," Father McKee testified. But after three years, Father McKee told the jury that Murtha had to go. It wasn't over any sexual allegations.

"I had issues with him over authority and anger," Father McKee said.

Father Murtha had to go. In his last few weeks on the job, he finally shared his psychological evaluation from St. John Vianney with Father McKee.

But the priest remained in active ministry until 2010, when Cardinal Justin Rigali asked that he be defrocked.


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