Friday, April 23, 2010

An Abusive Process

The Father Lawrence Murphy case (the pedophile priest from Milwaukee Archdiocese) has been resurrected again. You will remember the facts. It was the case where The New York Times which alleged that it had discovered the "smoking gun" linking Pope Benedict XVI directly and personally with hushing up a child sex abuse case.

This time there has been a a lawsuit filed Thursday in a United States Federal Court. The defendants are the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Cardinal Sodano and 10 other presently unknown officials of the Holy See (whose names and details may be brought in at a later date if the case continues the plaintiff`s lawyers can discover something against them).

The lawsuit now claims that one victim of the priest wrote two letters to the Vatican’s secretary of state (Cardinal Sodano) in 1995 asking Pope John Paul II himself to read his anguished letters and “excommunicate” the priest, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy. The victim said he never received a response. As a result it is now claimed 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.

The Vatican Lawyer in the United States, Jeffrey Lena, states that the lawsuit is not legitimate. The case does, however, show an attempt by "certain U.S. lawyers" to take advantage of the judiciary for media relations, he argues.

The Catholic News Agency reports Mr Lena " responds in the statement released on Friday, "first and foremost, sympathy is due to the victims of the criminal acts committed by Fr. Lawrence Murphy. By sexually abusing children, Murphy violated both the law and the trust that his victims had placed in him."

Stating that there have been "legitimate lawsuits" filed by victims of abuse in the past, Lena underscores, "this is not one of them."

He calls John Doe 16 vs. Holy See "an attempt to use tragic events as a platform for a broader attack," and says that this specific case is "one dependent on re-characterizing the Catholic Church as a worldwide 'business enterprise.'"

The lawsuit alleges that the Vatican had known about complaints against Fr. Murphy since 1995, that its secrecy perpetuated further cases, and that, as the Church's supreme authority, it was responsible for the decisions of Wisconsin bishops regarding Fr. Murphy.

The suit seeks monetary damages as well as the release of Vatican files concerning sexually abusive priests.

But Lena charges that the lawsuit is "completely without merit," as it "rehashes old theories already rejected by U.S. courts."

As for the involvement of the Holy See in the case, the Vatican's lawyer says that it had "no role whatsoever in causing plaintiff's injuries," having not known about the cases "until decades after the abuse occurred."

This lawsuit, he writes, is "simply the latest attempt by certain U.S. lawyers to use the judicial process as a tool of media relations." "

The writ or summons issued on behalf of the victim in this case is quite remarkable.

The writ is on at this link. You have to register with scribd. com to read it. It is 55 pages in length. It is a .pdf file.

1.) The victim is anonymous. However what is quite strange is that it is not specified when the abuse took place. This would appear to be a crucial omission. It is recalled that Murphy began his reign of terror at the Boarding school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974.

Cardinal Ratzinger did not take up his post at the CDF until 1981.

The letters to Cardinal Sodano appear to have been written in 1995.

The Archdiocese only started the canonical process against Murphy in December 1995.

The Archdiocese only wrote to the CDF in 1996.

In January 1998 the Archdiocese started the correct proceedings in the correct Tribunal in January 1998

The meeting in Rome when Cardinal Bertone and his officials in the CDF met with Archbishop Weakland and officials from the Archdiocese in Rome was in May 1998.

Murphy died in August 1998.

In 2001 Pope John Paul II issued the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela which instructed Bishops to transfer all cases of child sex abuse to the CDF. Prior to that time the matter was within the jurisdiction of the individual diocese.

2.) Cardinal Levada described the original article in The New York Times which set off the furore thus:

"Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996.

Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial.

The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, [and the Holy See] instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others."

("The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI: how it looks to an American in the Vatican by Cardinal William J. Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)

The same could be said of the writ and the statement of claim.

2.) The writ concentrates on the secrecy "demanded" by the Holy See. One crucial point is omitted. It was not a secret in 1974 when the tales of abuse came out into the open. The police and authorities were informed. No doubt by the victims and their families.

In her original article in The New York Times, Goodstein said that Murphy “not only was never tried or disciplined by the church’s own justice system, but also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims, according to the documents and interviews with victims.”
3.) The victim does not seek a remedy against the priest or the archdiocese. Apparently the victim has already received an out of court settlement from the Archdiocese.

4.) The whole point of the action is to pin legal liability for the wrong committed on the victim on the Holy See, the three Cardinals and any other official of the Holy See who is later discovered to be at fault. Apparently the lawyer responsible for the writ has also said that "What we want the Vatican to do is step up to disgorge the secrets that they have in their files," he told the BBC.

He said his client was not seeking money but wanted the Church "to fundamentally come clean, to come forth with all documents that have evidence of crimes against children for decades".

5.) The victim`s two letters to Cardinal Sodano, the canonical process for the defrocking of Murphy by the Archdiocese and the letters to the Holy Office with the subsequent meetiing with Cardinal Bertone are all founded on.

However it also goes on to cite the Council of Elvira in the fourth century, the book of St John Damiano, the letter of Father Fitzgerald to Pope Paul VI, the Crimen Solicitationis of 1917 and 1962 and various other seemingly unrelated facts and events.

6. ) It is a rather strange document. It attempts to characterise the Catholic church as a business operation controlled by the Vatican and that all dioceses, cardinals, bishops, priests, and others are controlled and operated by the Vatican in support of its attempt to pin legal liability on the Vatican and thus attack Vatican assets.

7.) It is an attempt to pin vicarious responsibility on the Holy See for the acts of Murphy and for the omissions of the diocesan authoritites. It is not a very convincing story.

8.)In its attempt to fit the Catholic Church into classic legal theory, priests and others are described as employees of the Holy See. The school run for the Deaf in which the abuse took place apparently was run by the Holy See and its employees or agents. The Holy See got its cut of the profits from the school. The employer`s handbook for priests and bishops is in fact Canon Law.

I do not think that the Pope and Cardinals Sodano and Bertone need lose much sleep over this writ.

However it is just another example of cheap and unjustified smears using the Court system to attract publicity and divert attention from the real issues which should be addressed.

Don`t they have concepts such as abuse of process in the US Federal Courts ?