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Pope Benedict and the Milwaukee Molester

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Lawrence Murphy was a serial molester of deaf boys during his 25 year tenure as head of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, from 1950 to 1975. Murphy died in 1998.

In recent days charges have been leveled at Pope Benedict alleging that the pope was somehow complicit in the shameful conduct of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The priest in charge of the Church’s prosecution of Murphy is Fr. Thomas Brundage, who wrote this article this week about the allegations. He was my guest today, and the transcript of that conversation is posted here. Key exchanges:

HH: [I]f the Pope had been involved in this, would you have known of that?

TB: I’m almost certain I would have, because even in 1997-98, Cardinal Ratzinger was a huge figure. And you know, had he had any involvement in this matter, I don’t see how they could have kept it away from me. I mean, I met with officials in Rome, I met with officials in Washington. In addition to his job at the Congregation, he wore a number of other hats, and it would be unbelievable to me that he would have had any involvement in this case….

HH: Now speaking generally, as someone who’s had personal experience in the prosecution of one of the predators, and as someone who is also obviously well-versed in canonical law, how has Benedict’s record been, both as Pope and as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, generally, on the child abuse cases?

TB: He has done more than any other major religious figure that I know of in history, and that’s either current history or past. He has had a worldwide audience, in which he has repeatedly talked about the shame that this has brought to the Church, and trying to get the filth out of the Church. What I know is since 2001, when a case has been sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, they have swiftly, and I think fairly, removed an awful lot of these predators from the priesthood. And so there has been a purgation since he was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that continues to this very day of the priests who preyed on kids.

HH: So when you see the New York Times, or today, columnist Maureen Dowd, or this new AP story, or the lawyer in Kentucky, targeting the Pope, what do you think they’re doing? Why do you think they’re doing it?

TB: I, my gut reaction to this is there has been outright, and sometimes latent anti-Catholicism. And I know it’s easy to play the anti card. I think there’s a part of this here that Benedict stands for an awful lot of things that the American society, and Western Europe, the European society, do not like. We support life. We have issues that are very, very different from the mindset of many Americans and Europeans as well. And I see this as a kind of blatant attack upon the Church.

Fr. Brundage never had any contact with the pope, nor did he ever hear of any involvement of the pope with the case, nor did the Vatican office the pope ran routinely supervise these cases until 2001, although some officials in that office did work with Fr. Brundage on this particular case because of one of the charges leveled against Murphy.

At the conclusion of our interview I asked Father Brundage to speculate on why the reporting and commentary on this story has been so flawed and he speculated that there is both anti-Catholicism and anti-Benedict prejudice at work in some quarters.



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