Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.
The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.
Wow, so they finally found the smoking gun that can tie the Pope to the abuse scandals. Or have they?
The New York Times did supply copies of all the documents they base this story on at their website. Go read them. I did and I'm not so sure they paint the story the Times would like us to believe.
In reading all of this I came away with the sense that I was reading documents very similar to those I've read in court cases I've been involved with in business. One side is in the right and they are appealing for justice; the other side is in the wrong and I think quite aware of it and they are appealing for mercy. You've got a bunch of lawyers involved trying to figure out the best way to move forward within the strictures of the law.
The only difference is that in this case the accused is a priest, the attorneys are priests and the court is the Church, which on the surface just doesn't seem right, at least in a civil sense. However, this is purely a matter of Canon law that is being discussed and the Church is the legal authority.
Admittedly this case of abuse was handled wrong way back when it happened, in the '50's and '60's. That is where the real problem lies. But then, in this respect it really isn't that much different than most of these cases. The big difference is that, because it passed through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the Popes tenure there it is seen as a way to finally link him to the scandal.
By the time it got to the CDF and theoretically into the hands of Cardinal Ratzinger how much of a case was there? Reading the documents you start to see the predicament faced by the attorneys. The case had long ago exceeded the statute of limitations of both the Church and the civil authorities. This was addressed by the Church by suspending the statute to allow the trial to move forward. Next they had a problem with the witnesses, all of whom were deaf and presented a barrier to clear communication. Thirdly, Father Murphy is obviously nearing death because some of the documents are concerned with setting up his funeral.
Surrounding all of this is the question of scandal. The Church realizes that the case will open a big can of worms and that prosecution will be extremely difficult. They know they have a priest that is probably guilty but is on the verge of death. So they are trying to weigh the possible good of the trial against the bad.
Based on legal situations I've been in these seem to be pretty normal parts of the process. Because it is child abuse emotions run high. Because it is child abuse and the Church, the sense that justice demands action is even higher. It is after all the Church and it is, or should be, held to a much higher standard than any other organization.
Now, because there is a possibility that the Pope can somehow be tied to it, justice has been thrown out the window and the jackals are circling.
This case is bad because of the numbers of kids potentially involved. It's bad because it was so badly handled from the very beginning. It's bad for the victims because they must feel betrayed and they must feel like they can never get back what they lost. I believe all these things are true.
What it is not true is a condemnation of the Pope or his activities as head of the CDF. And it is not evidence that he was somehow involved in a cover up. It is none of the things that the press and the enemies of the Church will try to paint it as.
What it is is just another sad reminder of how much evil has entered the Body of Christ and how much damage it has done.