Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Matter of Murphy

Let's say this straight out -- no Catholic is happy about the horrors that certain members of the priesthood visited upon innocent children over the course of the last 60 years. That we continue to find victims saddens all of us. Every Catholic that I know hopes that the victims can find some form of recompense for what happened.

Having said that, as a Catholic I believe it is long past time to stop accepting the dictates of fools and charlatans about our Church and, by extension, our faith. The matter of Lawrence Murphy, the priest who abused potentially hundreds of innocent children at the St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, has been only the latest brickbat by which the Catholics have been beaten over the last 20 years. A few thoughts:


  • I don't think any Catholic, or any Christian of any denomination, needs to pay much attention to the harangues of a cynical atheist like Christopher Hitchens.
  • Likewise, I don't much care what the cynical, blowsy Maureen Dowd has to say, either. She may claim to be nominally Catholic, but there is nothing in her background or her writings that suggests she understands the first thing about the Church.
  • The glee that the MSM has demonstrated in invoking the Watergate narrative in this matter ("What did the Pope know, and when did he know it") is either silly or offensive. I'm having a difficult time deciding which. The latest "revelation" I've read moves the scandal all the way back to Paul VI. I supect a letter directed to one of the Avignon Popes will surface in the coming days.
  • The key to understanding what happens is one word: anachronism. We are imposing the value judgments of today on events that happened years ago. The belief that was prevalent at the time was that pedophile priests could be treated and cured. As it turns out, that is not the case. It took too long for the Church to understand that, but we understand many things now that we didn't in, say, 1963.
  • Is there evidence that Pope Benedict was derelict in his duties? Not especially. We now have the testimony of William Levada, formerly the Archbishop of San Francisco, who now heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office held by Benedict when he was known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Levada goes into great detail in discussing recent events and the news coverage. It's a longish piece but it's well worth your time to read it in full. The most relevant paragraphs are these:

Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996. Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial.

The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others.

I grew up in Wisconsin, in the Green Bay Diocese. Rembert Weakland, the Archbishop of Milwaukee, was always a controversial figure in the Church and his role in what happened in Milwaukee has not received a lot of attention. Weakland himself was forced from the Church in 2002, following revelations that he was an active homosexual who had long-standing affairs during his time as Archbishop. Weakland had both the motive and the standing to take action against Lawrence Murphy, but he did not. Is there a reason? No one knows, because it doesn't appear that he has been asked.

Weakland's successor, Jerome Listecki, says the blame belongs in Milwaukee:

Mistakes were made in the Lawrence Murphy case. The mistakes were not made in Rome in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The mistakes were made here, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, by the Church, by civil authorities, by Church officials, and by bishops. And for that, I beg your forgiveness in the name of the Church and in the name of this Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Listecki is correct. Yes, the Church has had a global problem and only in the last decade or so has it started to find a solution. It is important to understand that individual Archbishops have great authority and their own views matter a lot. If you doubt the importance of an individual archbishop, consider the ongoing attacks that John Nienstedt, who is the Archbishop here in the Twin Cities, faces from the likes of Nick Coleman. Weakland wielded enormous power in the Archdiocese, and by extension throughout heavily Catholic Wisconsin. And for reasons we do not know, he did not stop what happened at the St. John's School for the Deaf.

But you know what? In the end, the issue isn't really affixing blame for what happened. The larger issue is healing those who were hurt and ensuring that future generations of children will never face what the children at St. John's did. The Church continues to make progress on both fronts. We have a long way to go and it will take the prayers of the faithful. As a Catholic, I have a responsiblity to offer prayer and support for the victims. I do not have any obligation to accept the dictates of Maureen Dowd or her partners at the New York Times.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is additional information regarding this matter to be considered:

http://catholicanchor.org/wordpress/?p=601

Rembert Weakland's hand is all over this situation, and it appears that then Cardinal Ratzinger's hand is not. Blame need to be placed where it appropriately belongs, and that is at the feet of Weakland. As we found out later, Weakland indeed has something to hide, which clearly affected his response to abuse situations.

Anonymous said...

Anon,
you are correct. There is additional info regarding this matter to be considered. Especially Brundage's latest reversal of what he said last week. This week, Brundage is admitting that documents he had not previously seen show that the Vatican had encouraged the Milwaukee Archdiocese to halt the canonical trial. Encouraged is Brundage' weasel words for what actually happened. While the Vatican and the CDF did not actually order a halt to the trial, Bertone (Ratzinger's right hand man and representitive at the CDF) laid out a formal pastoral plan for Weakland to follow under an administrative process. (In other words, non-judicial. Pastoral is a weasel word for non-judicial measures). The admin process removed Murphy from ministry and required written apologies to his victims. Given the hierarchical nature of the Church, I am pretty certain a formal plan from the Vatican is taken as an order. But if you want to hide behind the notion that the Vatican did not ORDER the cessation of Murphy's trial, then I guess you have that right. But other documents in the Times archive show that Weakland was very much in favor of proceeding with the trial. So please don't try to spin this by blaming Weakland. We have had enough spin already, and blaming the odd man out is just BS. Additionally,
read Weakland’s seemingly heartfelt handwritten note to one of Murphy’s victims after his death. In it, Weakland notes that he had fought in Rome for a trial.

BTW, this is all part of the public record. See "Letter from Weakland to Bertone" August 19, 1998, NYTimes documents, p.75

dm18461908 said...

Why is it that Rembert Weakland, who committed his illicit, scandalous activity in a consensual, adult, homosexual relationship has suffered greater penalty against his priesthood and person than any of the perpretrators of the abuse that has been discussed over the past several weeks, and what does that say about the church?

Mr. D said...

Why is it that Rembert Weakland, who committed his illicit, scandalous activity in a consensual, adult, homosexual relationship has suffered greater penalty against his priesthood and person than any of the perpretrators of the abuse that has been discussed over the past several weeks, and what does that say about the church?

It says that the Church has work to do. No one is disputing that.

Weakland is hardly a martyr, though. You can read his protests one of two ways: either he was a true crusader against abuse, or he was covering his ass. He was not archbishop when Murphy was committing his crimes, but he was archbishop during the investigation that was leading to a canonical trial. And he ignored the matter for 20 years. If he was truly committed to the cause of justice, he could have gone public with what was happening. Archbishops wield enormous power in the Church and it's difficult to see what sanction he would have faced for coming forward. He would have been lauded for bravery, for speaking truth to power. He didn't, most likely because he had too much to lose.

If people want to finger Benedict for not acting the right way in retrospect, I don't think such a crticism of Weakland would be unwarranted either. In retrospect, right?

dm18461908 said...

My criticism of Ratizger/the Pope is not so much for what was done incorrectly or only after great delay. My main complaint/concern is the concerted efforts to discredit the messenger. Think what you will of The Grey Lady, complain as you wish of the fairness of the coverage, its timing, etc. The point is that I am hearing/reading that this is systemic bias and unfairness directed at the Roman Catholic Church in this coverage. That's not true...the press sensationalizes anyone and anything caught in these circumstances. That the Curia has formed a circular condemnation squad shows how thoroughly out-of-touch and tone-deaf they continue to be with regard to ordinary parishioners and congregants.

Rocco Palmo put it best in his comments on the last station, last night. While condemnation and complaint from the highest levels of the church continue to come forth regarding coverage, there are good and faithful people who have been forced to carry this baggage through the years because of the Church's lack of response and institutional denial.

Do I believe that Benedict is letting old views prevail? No, I believe he is now, finally, doing what is right and just. That every member of the hierarchy is calling him and the church defenseless in the face of the mighty New York Times is a stretch, at best.

Mr. D said...

My criticism of Ratizger/the Pope is not so much for what was done incorrectly or only after great delay. My main complaint/concern is the concerted efforts to discredit the messenger. Think what you will of The Grey Lady, complain as you wish of the fairness of the coverage, its timing, etc. The point is that I am hearing/reading that this is systemic bias and unfairness directed at the Roman Catholic Church in this coverage. That's not true...the press sensationalizes anyone and anything caught in these circumstances. That the Curia has formed a circular condemnation squad shows how thoroughly out-of-touch and tone-deaf they continue to be with regard to ordinary parishioners and congregants.

I understand your point, dm. I'm not convinced that the Grey Lady necessarily speaks for ordinary parishioners or congregants. It speaks for itself. And some of the voices emanating from the Times building are quite hostile to the Church. Your mileage may vary.

Do I believe that Benedict is letting old views prevail? No, I believe he is now, finally, doing what is right and just. That every member of the hierarchy is calling him and the church defenseless in the face of the mighty New York Times is a stretch, at best.

They aren't defenseless, of course. The hierarchy is quite capable of defending itself without the help of a single blogger in Minnesota. I'm just calling it as I see it. And I think an honest reading of the evidence indicates that the process has been underway for a decade or more.

As for the Times, it can defend itself as well. Organizations that buy ink by the barrel are usually quite capable of mounting an aggressive self-defense.

Oh, and before I forget, thank you for visiting.

dm18461908 said...

Always a pleasure to revisit the Politburo and its former denizens.