MILWAUKEE, Wis (Reuters) - Pope Benedict should be held accountable for doing nothing about a Wisconsin priest who was accused of sexually abusing as many as 200 boys at a Milwaukee school for the deaf, one of his victims said on Thursday.
Arthur Budzinski, a 61-year-old Milwaukee printer who is deaf, spoke through his daughter, Gigi, about how his “innocence was stolen from him” by the accused abuser, Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who died in 1998 at age 72.
“The pope knew about this. He was the one who handled the sex abuse cases. So, I think he should be accountable, because he did nothing,” Gigi Budzinski said at a news conference held outside the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s offices.
Murphy worked at the school from 1950 to 1974.
A lawyer bringing a lawsuit on behalf of five alleged victims published on his firm’s website internal church documents detailing the church’s responses to the case.
In 1996, Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland wrote a letter citing Murphy’s abuses to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the Vatican’s top doctrinal official and now Pope Benedict.
The archbishop did not receive a reply.
As the U.S. church took steps to try Murphy in secret in 1998, as directed by the Vatican office, the priest appealed directly to Ratzinger. Murphy asked to be left alone, saying he was in ill health having suffered a stroke, and had repented acts committed years earlier, according to the documents.
The Vatican office halted the investigation.
Mark Salmon, a member of a group of victims of sexual abuse by priests, said the issue was “where it belongs, and that’s at the Vatican’s doorstep.”
“Ratzinger can have all of the colonels and lieutenants he wants falling on their swords for him, but eventually he has to fess up, and that’s what I hope happens,” Salmon said.
An editorial in the Vatican newspaper on Thursday, responding to a New York Times report about the Murphy case, angrily attacked the media over its reporting of sexual abuse of children by priests.
There was “clearly an ignoble attempt to strike at Pope Benedict and his closest aides at any cost,” it said. “There was no cover-up in the case of Father Murphy.”
Budzinski said he and other victims of Murphy’s sexual advances met in 1974 with former Milwaukee Archbishop William Cousins, who did not believe them and yelled at them.
“He left there, and he was crying, because he couldn’t believe that the archbishop would do that to him. He thought that he would take his side, and he didn’t,” Gigi Budzinski said of her father, who became depressed and lost his faith.
Budzinski said he took his complaints to the police but he said detectives questioned and then released Murphy, who denied the accusations.
A Milwaukee police spokeswoman said the department had no record on file of any such complaint.
Documents attributed to church officials showed that Murphy — who knew sign language — would enter the school’s dormitory and ask boys to join him in confession, “instructing” them in sex education.
He asked boys he molested about their sexual contacts with others, got the names of those boys and molested them. He molested boys at his mother’s vacation cottage and on trips.
Murphy admitted to the church that he had molested boys, according to the documents.
Wisconsin church officials warned the Vatican about the probability that Murphy’s acts would become public and create a scandal. One victim was paid a $70,000 settlement.
Murphy was buried in his priestly vestments, over the objections of some of his victims.
U.S. Roman Catholic archdioceses have collectively paid some $2 billion in settlements to victims since the priest sex scandals first erupted in Boston some eight years ago.
Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Eric Beech