by Laurie Goodstein (NY Times)
April 22, 2010
Documents released in a lawsuit filed Thursday against Pope Benedict XVI show that the Vatican was informed more than a year earlier than previously thought about the case of a priest who molested deaf boys for two decades at a boarding school in Wisconsin.One victim of the priest wrote two letters to the Vatican's secretary of state in 1995 asking Pope John Paul II himself to read his anguished letters and "excommunicate" the priest, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy.
Father Murphy, who died in 1998, admitted to a psychologist hired by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that he had molested 34 children when he worked at St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wis., from 1952 to 1974. Church officials concluded that there might have been as many as 200 victims.
The Vatican had previously said that the first notice it had about Father Murphy was when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — received a letter about the case in 1996 from Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee.
The letter writer, whose name was excised, is now the unnamed plaintiff in the latest lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer who has brought hundreds of sexual abuse cases against the Roman Catholic Church.
The victim said he never received a response.
What makes this lawsuit unusual is that it names as defendants Pope Benedict; the Vatican's current secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone; a former secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano; and the Holy See.
Jeffrey Lena, a lawyer for the Holy See, said the case was "really without merit." He added, "When you're claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress because you got no response to a letter to a private individual who is like a prime minister, that is going off the deep end."
The suit also seeks to force the Vatican to release files with the names of priests who have admitted abusing children. It seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The Vatican posted guidelines on its Web site this month directing church officials to follow civil laws mandating the reporting of crimes to the authorities, but the guidelines do not have the force of canon law.
John C. Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School, said that because of diplomatic immunity, it is very difficult to sue a state sovereign like the pope. But, Mr. Coffee noted, similar cases have not been dismissed by the courts.
Mr. Anderson's firm is representing five other clients who say they were molested by Father Murphy. But those lawsuits were filed against Archbishop Weakland and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, who are not named in this newest suit.
Efforts by Wisconsin church officials to subject Father Murphy to a canonical trial and remove him from the priesthood were halted after he wrote a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger asking for a cessation of the trial.
The victim received a settlement of $75,000 in 1996 from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Mr. Anderson said.