Abuse docs provided to NY Times by lawyer trying to sue the Vatican

04 06 2010 McGurn Bill McGurn

Claims that Pope Benedict declined to defrock a Milwaukee priest who molested deaf students rely upon documents supplied by a leading lawyer in lawsuits against the Catholic Church, Bill McGurn reports. He charges that the New York Times did not sufficiently disclose this connection and advises more “journalistic skepticism” about the narrative of an attorney who stands to make millions.

The attorney in question has charged that Pope Benedict is the head of an “international conspiracy” to cover up crimes and evade the law.

In a Tuesday essay in the Wall Street Journal, writer and news executive William McGurn responded to two Times articles by Laurie Goodstein, “Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Deaf Boys" published in print March 25 and “Events in the Case of an Accused Priest” printed on April 1.

He notes the internal church documents cited by Goodstein and posted on the Times website were reportedly provided by Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan. The two are described by the Times as “lawyers for five men who have brought four lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

But, McGurn wrote, Goodstein did not tell readers that Anderson is not “just any old lawyer.”

“When it comes to suing the Church, he is America's leading plaintiff’s attorney. Back in 2002, he told the Associated Press that he'd won more than $60 million in settlements from the Church, and he once boasted to a Twin Cities weekly that he's ‘suing the s--t out of them everywhere.’”

McGurn also charged that the Times did not report the “salient fact” that Anderson is now trying to sue the Vatican in U.S. federal court.

“None of this makes Mr. Anderson wrong or unworthy of quoting,” he said in his Wall Street Journal piece. “It does make him a much bigger player than the story disclosed. In fact, it's hard to think of anyone with a greater financial interest in promoting the public narrative of a church that takes zero action against abuser priests, with Pope Benedict XVI personally culpable.”

According to McGurn, when asked about the omissions in an e-mail, Goodstein replied:

“Given the complexity of the Murphy case, and the relative brevity of my story, I don't think it is realistic for you to expect this story to get into treating other cases that these attorneys have handled."

The website of Jeff Anderson & Associates, P.A. contains many press releases and news articles about clerical sexual abuse allegations.

The website announces a March 25 press conference on “long-hidden Catholic Church records” obtained in the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, who was accused of abusing some 200 deaf students at between the 1950s and the 1970s.

The press release refers to the New York Times story of the day and presents a critical interpretation of the Vatican’s handling of the case.

“The Documents seriously undermine the Pope’s credibility by revealing that the Pope and top aide kept 150 sex allegations vs. predator secret in 1998, and rebuffed 3 bishops who wanted the pedophile priests ousted,” the firm claims.

The law firm’s website also reproduces a St. Paul Pioneer Press article on the March 25 news conference which gives lengthy coverage to Anderson and his client’s charges. The official Catholic response is presented only in one sentence describing a reaction from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

According to the Pioneer Press, Anderson charged that the Pope along with his predecessors was"the mastermind, head, of an international conspiracy to cover up their own crimes and keep them above the law."

Donald Marshall, who has accused Fr. Murphy of kissing him and attempting to fondle him when he was a teenager at Lincoln Hills Boys Home in Irma, Wisconsin, also spoke at the press conference.

More in US

Now 45, Marshall said he was shocked when he was told that “then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — had a chance to defrock Murphy but instead did nothing,” the Pioneer Press says.

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger "may have not fondled me, but he's no different because he allowed it to happen," Marshall said, according to the Pioneer Press.

In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger was not appointed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) until 1981, well after the abuse took place.

His office addressed sexual abuse cases only when it involved abuse of the confessional until 2001, when it took over abuse cases from the Roman Rota. Allegations against Murphy came to the CDF’s attention in 1996 because of claims he abused the confessional.

The documents provided to the New York Times by Anderson and Finnegan, as well as the Times’ interpretation of them, have been called into question.

The documentation included the minutes of a key Vatican meeting between three Wisconsin bishops and CDF Secretary Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone. However, the same documentation revealed that these Italian-language minutes were translated “very roughly” into English using a computer translator.

Properly translated, the minutes show that the Vatican never ruled out the laicization of the priest, but a lack of records from the archdiocese created barriers to a canonical trial.

(Story continues below)

In his Wall Street Journal essay, McGurn provided additional documentation challenging the Times’ claims that the priest was never tried or disciplined by the church’s own justice system. In fact, Fr. Murphy was stripped of his priestly faculties, a process McGurn declares the equivalent of taking away a doctor’s medical license.

McGurn challenged the press to continue examining the “hard questions” about Catholic prelates’ action in the Murphy case. However, he suggested reporters provide “some context, and a bit of journalistic skepticism about the narrative of a plaintiff’s attorney making millions off these cases.”

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.