Will It Be 5 or 22 Years for Catholic Priest Caught with Child Porn?

Detroit Free Press
January 21, 2014

The Rev. Timothy Murray, now 63, in an undated photo from his time as a working priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Murray is being sentenced Thursday for possession and distribution of child pornography. In 2004, he was removed as pastor of St. Edith parish in Livonia for molesting a 13-year-old boy. / Archdiocese of Detroit

Timothy Murray of Novi, a non-practicing Catholic priest and onetime pastor of St. Edith parish in Livonia, is to find out Thursday how long he will spend in federal prison for possessing and distributing child pornography.

Murray pleaded guilty to one count of possession and one count of distribution of child pornography in July and has been awaiting sentencing at home on bond.

Murray was removed from his post at St. Edith in 2004, after the Archdiocese of Detroit received an allegation that he had molested a 13-year-old boy in the 1980s. Murray admitted to the molestation, according to court files, but was never prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.

Murray’s sentencing will come days after news that the Vatican laicized — or dismissed from the priesthood — nearly 400 men in two years for sexual abuse accusations.

Murray’s case raises questions about why he was allowed to remain a Catholic priest, albeit one who couldn’t work, dress or identify himself as a priest. Although receiving a partial pension and partial health care benefits from the archdiocese, court documents show Murray has supported himself as a cook, waiter and an accountant.

After the molestation allegation was made known, Murray found a new place to worship at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills, court documents say. The documents also report that since at least 2008, Murray has participated as an occasional worship leader and co-director of Hope church’s Christmas plays.

The archdiocese first learned of Murray’s involvement at Hope Lutheran from the Free Press late Friday. Archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath said Murray was not prevented from going to church services, but was supposed to alert them to any activities that put him in contact with minors.

“I know we were not told, by Murray or by Hope Lutheran, of his involvement with the church,” said archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath. “There are several serious issues involved here, not the least of which is Murray’s deceit with us.”

Hope Lutheran associate pastor Lauren Miller wrote a letter to U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, who will decide Murray’s sentence, asking for leniency, condemning his crime but noting Murray’s contributions to the congregation.

The Archdiocese of Detroit said Murray was required to report his Hope Lutheran activities, which could have put him in contact with minors, to a former parole agent the Detroit archdiocese has hired to be a watchdog over 11 archdiocese priests accused of previous sexual abuse. The priests were not prosecuted criminally because of the statute of limitations.

On Tuesday, an archdiocese official sent a letter about Murray to Roberts, who will decide the priest’s fate.

“The safety of children is paramount,” McGrath said. “We take seriously the restrictions placed upon a priest permanently removed from ministry. In addition to restrictions on public ministry and presenting himself as a priest, the individual is directed to lead a life of prayer and penance. And required to report completely and candidly to our archdiocesan monitor. As we do in all cases, we cooperate fully with civil authorities. If and/or when we have additional information, we share it with them.”

Federal prosecutors are asking that Murray be sentenced to 22 years in prison, given his admission that he is attracted to teenage boys and because of the large volume of child porn on his Novi home computers, which was able to be accessed electronically by others, including undercover agents.

Murray’s attorney, Stephen Rabaut, wrote that the federal government’s sentencing request is “draconian.”

Rabaut asked the judge to give Murray a five-year sentence. Rabaut said psychological testing shows Murray is capable of resisting urges to view child porn and to act out on his attraction to boys. While acknowledging Murray’s admission that he molested a teenage boy in the 1980s, “there is no such allegation in recent duration.”

Murray regularly told the archdiocese’s monitor that he had no involvement or interaction with minors, Msgr. Michael Bugarin, the archdiocese official who deals with clergy misconduct, wrote in a letter to Judge Roberts.

“The Archdiocese recently discovered that Rev. Murray has been participating in ministerial activities at Hope Lutheran Church ... including possible contact with minors,” Bugarin wrote. “The archdiocese believes such contact with minors violates restrictions placed upon him by the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese wanted to make the court aware of this information.”

It’s unclear whether Hope Lutheran officials knew of Murray’s past when he joined their congregation. Hope church officials have not responded to phone calls and e-mails. Associate pastor Miller wrote that she has known Murray since 2008.

“During that time, I have experienced Tim as a thoughtful, caring person who never failed to ask how I was doing, and offer an insightful remark about my sermon,” wrote Miller. “Tim served as a worship leader on an occasional basis and clearly found life and hope in his interactions with the community here. As a co-director for several drama productions at the church, Tim had a strong working relationship with participants and was well respected by the church community.”

Murray “affirmed and brought out the gifts in others, and encouraged them to truly shine,” Miller continued, noting his arrest for child pornography “was a shock to the congregation.”

Murray’s case raises questions about how Catholic officials decided which priests are formally removed from the priesthood for abuse, and which are allowed to remain non-practicing priests, as Murray did.

The laicization procedure formalizes a priest’s return to the status of a layperson and cuts his ties to his dioceses. In the aftermath of the 2002 priest sex abuse scandal, Catholic bishops said they would push for laicization of credibly accused priests. But bishops have made many exceptions for priests who were elderly, or in poor health, or for other reasons.

Some accused priests asked voluntarily to be laicized. Other such priests could fight attempts by their bishops to have them laicized.

The Detroit Archdiocese’s website lists six living onetime Archdiocese priests who have been laicized for past sexual abuse. (This does not reflect priests who belong to religious orders.)

McGrath said archdiocese officials consider multiple factors in pursuing laicization. There’s been a national debate about whether it’s better to automatically push for the laicization of accused priests, or permanently remove them from public ministry and keep them attached to the church yet monitored.

If an accused priest is laicized, said McGrath, “he’s not accountable to anybody.”

Contact Patricia Montemurri: 313-223-4538 or








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