In a statement released on the Vatican website, Cardinal William J. Levada charged that the recent media attacks on the Holy Father by the New York Times concerning sex abuse within the Church are “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness” that American readers have come to expect from major media outlets.
Cardinal Levada, who is the current prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), began his remarks by addressing a recent New York Times article by senior columnist Laurie Goodstein which leveled charges against the Vatican's handling of a Milwaukee sex abuse case. The prelate also took issue with an accompanying editorial which echoed Goodstein's perspective.
“I am not proud of America's newspaper of record, the New York Times,” Cardinal Levada wrote.“Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting,” stressed the cardinal, who then discussed what he found to be most troubling in Goodstein's March 24 article.
Cardinal Levada recounted that in her report, Goodstein asserted that “newly unearthed files” have shown that the Vatican, in particular then-Cardinal Ratzinger, failed to respond appropriately to the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, a Milwaukee priest who abused some 200 deaf children in an archdiocesan school from 1950 to 1974. Goodstein charged that the future Pope, who was then head of the CDF, failed to respond to letters from Archbishop Rembert Weakland, head of the Milwaukee Archdiocese at the time, informing the CDF of the abuse. Goodstein also claimed that the CDF “halted” Fr. Murphy's canonical trial.
Archbishop Weakland, who has dealt with numerous personal scandals of his own, informed the CDF of the Fr. Murphy situation some 20 years after the abuse cases took place.
Though Cardinal Levada agrees that “failures” on the part on civil and local Church authorities may have taken place concerning the dismissal of Fr. Murphy, the “point of Goodstein's article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time.”
In light of these false attributions the Holy Father, “Let me tell you what I think a fair reading of the Milwaukee case would seem to indicate,” said Cardinal Levada.
“The reasons why church and civil authorities took no action in the 1960’s and 70’s is apparently not contained in these 'newly emerged files.' Nor does the Times seem interested in finding out why. But what does emerge is this: after almost 20 years as Archbishop, Weakland wrote to the Congregation asking for help in dealing with this terrible case of serial abuse.”
Despite claims by Goodstein that then-Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to Archbishop Weakland, “The Congregation approved (Archbishop Weakland's) decision to undertake a canonical trial, since the case involved solicitation in confession – one of the graviora delicta (most grave crimes) for which the Congregation had responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action.”
“Only when it learned that Murphy was dying did the Congregation suggest to Weakland that the canonical trial be suspended, since it would involve a lengthy process of taking testimony from a number of deaf victims from prior decades, as well as from the accused priest. Instead it proposed measures to ensure that appropriate restrictions on his ministry be taken. Goodstein infers that this action implies 'leniency' toward a priest guilty of heinous crimes.”
“My interpretation,” he continued, “would be that the Congregation realized that the complex canonical process would be useless if the priest were dying. Indeed, I have recently received an unsolicited letter from the judicial vicar who was presiding judge in the canonical trial telling me that he never received any communication about suspending the trial, and would not have agreed to it. But Fr. Murphy had died in the meantime. As a believer, I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.”
Cardinal Levada further countered the New York Times by saying that “we owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors.”
“These efforts began when the Pope served as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and continued after he was elected Pope,” Cardinal Levada asserted. “That the Times has published a series of articles in which the important contribution he has made – especially in the development and implementation of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, the Motu proprio issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 – is ignored, seems to me to warrant the charge of lack of fairness which should be the hallmark of any reputable newspaper.”
The Cardinal further lambasted the Times by saying that as “a full-time member of the Roman Curia, the governing structure that carries out the Holy See’s tasks, I do not have time to deal with the Times’s subsequent almost daily articles by Rachel Donadio and others, much less with Maureen Dowd’s silly parroting of Goodstein’s 'disturbing report.'”
“But about a man with and for whom I have the privilege of working, as his 'successor' Prefect, a pope whose encyclicals on love and hope and economic virtue have both surprised us and made us think, whose weekly catecheses and Holy Week homilies inspire us, and yes, whose pro-active work to help the Church deal effectively with the sexual abuse of minors continues to enable us today,” Cardinal Levada concluded, “I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on.”