One point that got quite short shrift in the Times article was the role of Jeffrey Anderson, the Twin Cities attorney who has been suing the Catholic Church for the last decade. It might have been useful for Times readers to know that Anderson has been at this for a long time. McGurn points out some useful information about Mr. Anderson:
What she did not tell readers is that Mr. Anderson isn't just any old lawyer. When it comes to suing the church, he is America's leading plaintiffs attorney. Back in 2002, he told the Associated Press that he'd won more than $60 million in settlements from the church, and he once boasted to a Twin Cities weekly that he's "suing the s--t out of them everywhere." Nor did the Times report another salient fact about Mr. Anderson: He's now trying to sue the Vatican in U.S. federal court.
Now, it's a free country and Mr. Anderson is certainly entitled to pursue this work. In fact I've admired his work in the past. A careful reader would want to know Mr. Anderson's extensive history in these matters, especially since he's trying his case in the media. Goodstein didn't think that background mattered much:
Asked about the omissions in an email, Ms. Goodstein replied as follows: "Given the complexity of the Murphy case, and the relative brevity of my story, I don't think it is realistic for you to expect this story to get into treating other cases that these attorneys have handled."
That's silly. Of course it's realistic. The motivation of an accuser is always relevant, especially an attorney who has a separate case pending, as McGurn points out:
None of this makes Mr. Anderson wrong or unworthy of quoting. It does make him a much bigger player than the story disclosed. In fact, it's hard to think of anyone with a greater financial interest in promoting the public narrative of a church that takes zero action against abuser priests, with Pope Benedict XVI personally culpable.
McGurn also shares four letters from an attorney who has been on the other side of these suits, Martin Nussbaum, regarding the Murphy case. The last one, dated December 11, 1995, is especially on point. The letter bears the signature of the Archbishop, Rembert Weakland, and states that Murphy was essentially barred from all priestly duties. McGurn's summation seems right:
It's accurate to say Murphy was never convicted by a church tribunal. It's also reasonable to argue (as I would) that Murphy should have been disciplined more. It is untrue, however, to suggest he was "never" disciplined. When asked if she knew of these letters, Ms. Goodstein did not directly answer, saying her focus was on what was "new," i.e., "the attempts by those same bishops to have Father Murphy laicized."
The approach the Milwaukee Archdiocese took was not unusual. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also took a few priests out of commission, including a priest who lived in the rectory of our old parish, St. Adalbert, back in the late 1990s. This priest worked in the business office of the archdiocese but was never allowed to say Mass or conduct any sacraments. Since I was on the parish finance committee and worked closely with Fr. Tim Kernan, our pastor, during those days, I was aware of this priest but most parishioners were not even aware he was living in the rectory, which was less than 100 feet from the church building.
When Fr. Tim, who was in failing health and died in 2001, was too sick to perform Mass, the priest was never allowed to substitute for any services. When the parish couldn't find a substitute priest, we would have a lay communion service conducted by a deacon rather than allowing this priest to step into the church. While he lived within 100 feet of the church, it might as well have been 100 miles.
One important difference between this priest and Murphy is this: the priest who lived in the St. Adalbert rectory was arrested, prosecuted and punished for his actions in the criminal justice system. Once his sentence was completed the archdiocese took him back into the fold, even though it never let him work as a priest again. Was this approach -- quarantining pedophile priests -- the right approach for the archdiocese to take? Clearly not, and the archdiocese recognized it, but too late. When the scandals of 2002 came to light, the archdiocese quietly defrocked this priest and a handful of others it was harboring elsewhere. If it had been up to me, these priests would have been defrocked years before. But it's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.
But if we are going to engage in the exercise of Monday morning quarterbacking, there are other issues that merit attention. McGurn points out a few pertinent ones:
The Murphy case raises hard questions: why it took the archbishops of Milwaukee nearly two decades to suspend Murphy from his ministry; why innocent people whose lives had been shattered by men they are supposed to view as icons of Christ found so little justice; how bishops should deal with an accused clergyman when criminal investigations are inconclusive; how to balance the demands of justice with the Catholic imperative that sins can be forgiven. Oh, yes, maybe some context, and a bit of journalistic skepticism about the narrative of a plaintiffs attorney making millions off these cases.
That's a good list, but I have another thought. I'll get to that in the coming days.