Priest's S&m Vid Fetish Kept Secret from Pastor
By John P. Martin & Joseph A. Slobodzian
March 29, 2012
A HAVERTOWN pastor testified Wednesday that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sent a priest to his parish in 2002 without telling him that the man had been caught with gay sadomasochistic videos and a sexually graphic love letter he'd written to a seventh-grade boy.
The Rev. Henry McKee, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, said that nearly three years passed before he learned of the Rev. Michael Murtha's background.
"It was the last two to three weeks he was there," McKee told a Common Pleas Court jury.
McKee was one of four priests who testified Wednesday as prosecutors sought to show how Msgr. William J. Lynn and other church leaders shuffled and protected priests suspected of sexual misconduct or abuse.
Lynn - who, as secretary of clergy from 1992 to 2004, ran the office that recommended priests' assignments - is the first church official in the country to be tried for allegedly enabling or covering up clergy sex abuse.
His co-defendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, is charged with attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Both have denied the accusations.
Wednesday's testimony created an uncomfortable but potentially recurring scenario at the trial: a parade of priests taking the witness stand, discussing the sex habits or proclivities of other priests, at the prosecution of a cleric, Lynn, whom all knew and some clearly liked.
Much of the testimony was devoted to Murtha. In 1995, the Rev. Joseph F. Okonski testified, he found S&M magazines and videos in Murtha's room when both priests were assigned to St. Anselm parish, in the Northeast.
Under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho, Okonski said that he began regularly checking Murtha's room. He later discovered the letter Murtha wrote in childish handwriting to a seventh-grade boy at the parish school. Okonski said he reported the letter to the Rev. James Shields, the pastor, but Shields "did nothing." (Prosecutors have said they have no proof that Murtha sent the letter or abused the boy.)
Months later, archdiocesan officials confronted Murtha. He admitted that they were his, and he was sent to St. John Vianney, an Archdiocese-owned hospital in Downingtown, for evaluation and treatment.
After his discharge, Murtha was assigned to St. Ann's in Phoenixville. The pastor there, the Rev. John J. Newns, testified that Murtha acknowledged what had happened at his previous assignment and that he had been monitored by a counselor and after-care team.
McKee said that Lynn told him almost nothing about Murtha's background when Lynn asked if he would accept the priest at Sacred Heart in 2002.
Among other duties, McKee asked Murtha to train and manage the parish's altar boys and girls.
Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him @JPMartinInky on Twitter.