A lawsuit filed by a man sexually abused decades ago by a Wisconsin priest has named Pope Benedict XVI as a defendant. However, two authors have claimed the latest charges against the Pope repeat “widely debunked” inaccuracies.
The suit has been brought by 60-year-old deaf abuse victim Terry Kohut, who says he was abused by Fr. Lawrence C. Murphy while he was a priest and principal at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
According to CNN, Kohut said through an interpreter that the abuse first took place in the priest’s office when he was in his early teens. The abuse continued for years.
About 200 former students have said they were molested by Fr. Murphy, sometimes even in the confessional. Victims reported abuses to the civil authorities in the mid-1970s, but authorities dropped the investigation.
The case came to prominence earlier this year, with media outlets such as the Associate Press claiming that Fr. Murphy was “spared a defrocking” because he was allegedly “protected” by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
Clergyman such as current CDF head Cardinal William Levada and former judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Fr. Thomas Brundage have said the CDF only suspended canonical proceedings against Fr. Murphy because he was dying. A lack of records in the archdiocesan archives also impeded the canonical case, which was opened in the mid-1990s after advocacy by Murphy’s victims.
Until 2001, the CDF had limited jurisdiction over sex abuse cases. Generally it was only involved in cases concerning allegations of abuse which took place in the confessional and possibly involved violations of the Sacrament of Penance. Prior to that year, most cases were handled in the Roman Rota.
In its March reports on the case, the New York Times relied on documents provided by lawyers Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, some of which were poorly translated from Italian. Anderson is one of the leading attorneys in sex abuse lawsuits and has claimed that Pope Benedict was "the mastermind, head, of an international conspiracy to cover up their own crimes and keep them above the law."
According to CNN, Anderson is the lead lawyer in Kohut’s lawsuit. The suit alleges that through a policy of secrecy the Holy See “knowingly allowed, permitted and encouraged child sex abuse by its priests, including Murphy.”
Gregory Erlandson and Dr. Matthew Bunson, authors of the Our Sunday Visitor book “Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal,” have claimed that the latest allegations concerning the Pope’s involvement in the Fr. Murphy case rehash discredited charges.
"While the Murphy case is a glaring example of the poor oversight and inadequate communication that typified many abuse cases in the U.S. dioceses in the past 50 years, it does not show Cardinal Ratzinger in any way tolerant of, or insensitive to, the actions of abusers," they said in a press release from Our Sunday Visitor.