Wis. priest focus of scrutiny of pope's treatment

March 25, 2010 8:54:16 PM PDT
New revelations of sexual abuse have been leveled against a Wisconsin priest.

In addition, the case has a connection to the Vatican and Pope Benedict.

Critics of the Vatican's handling of sex abuse cases frequently charge that the church has deliberately covered up egregious instances of abuse in the interest of sparing the church embarrassment. In the case of the late Fr. Lawrence Murphy, those critics say they have a paper trail of documents that more than makes their argument and that it leads directly to the Pope.

"They would all sleep in one huge dorm room and he would see Fr. Murphy walking throughout the beds and molesting children," said Gigi Budzinski, abuse victim's daughter.

Arthur Budzinski was a student at St John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin in the mid to late 1960s. Fr. Lawrence Murphy was the director of the school. H was a well-respected charismatic priest, but also, according to Budzinski and others, a pedophile.

As far back as 1974, Budzinski and other former students complained that Murphy had regularly sexually abused them.

"He abused children in the confessional. He took them out into the woods and abused them. He admitted to 30-plus victims," said Mary Guentner, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Milwaukee.

Concern over Murphy's conduct within the church rose, and by the mid 1990s, the Milwaukee Archdiocese turned the case over to the Vatican, and its Doctrine of Faith office which determines whether the allegations are valid and whether defrocking a priest is warranted.

At the time that office was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who is now the Pope.

In 1998, Murphy wrote directly to Cardinal Ratzinger saying that he was in poor health, that he had repented for things that had happened a quarter century earlier, and that "I simply want to live out the time that I have left in tthe dignity of my priesthood."

That's what Murphy was allowed to do. He died the same year he wrote the letter. Critics say the decision not to punish was a cover up.

"All trails involving the cover up and the concealment of sexual abuse by Catholic clerics lead to Rome and the Pope," said Jeff Anderson, abuse victims' attorney.

"The Vatican covered this up and we want him to come clean," said Guentner.

The Vatican Thursday angrily denounced the cover up claim, and accused the media of an ignoble attempt to smear the Pope. One protest challenging the Pope to address the issue resulted in the brief arrest of SNAP founder Barbara Blaine near St. Peter's Square.

Budzinski says it's time the church took responsibility. "He should be removed as the Pope for protecting child molesters. That's not a man that should be leading a church," said Budzinski.

The Vatican denounced the accusations and accused the media of attempting to smear the Pope.

Church officials said that Murphy was old and ill and that no abuse allegations had been reported for more than 20 years. Murphy died in 1998 at the age of 72.