Pope defended over abuse inaction

March 26, 2010 12:00 am
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, VATICAN CITY, Mar 26 – The Vatican hit back on Thursday at new paedophilia revelations, defending Pope Benedict XVI against an allegation that he failed to act over a US priest accused of molesting up to 200 deaf children in the 1970s.

The Roman Catholic Church\’s morals watchdog then headed by the future pope was reportedly alerted twice by the archbishop of Wisconsin of the accusations against Reverend Lawrence Murphy.

Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, did not respond to the letters, and a secret canonical trial authorised by his deputy was halted after Murphy wrote a pleading letter to the future pope, The New York Times said, citing documents provided by victims\’ lawyers.

The Vatican replied on Thursday that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith chaired by Ratzinger had suggested "restricting" Murphy\’s public functions and "requiring (him to) accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts."

The priest was accused of abusing hearing-impaired children systematically between 1950 and 1974.

The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano denounced what it called an "ignoble attempt" to smear the pope and his closest aides "at all costs."

In an editorial, the paper touted the pope\’s "transparency, firmness and severity" in response to cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and said: "There was no cover-up in the case of Father Murphy."

The editorial confirms that Murphy, accused of abusing hearing-impaired children systematically between 1950 and 1974, wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger in 1998 asking him to halt Church legal proceedings against him because of his ill health.

Ratzinger\’s deputy Tarcisio Bertone – now the Vatican number two – responded to the letter by asking the Milwaukee archbishop to "obtain reparation of the scandal and the reestablishment of justice," Osservatore Romano said.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith chaired by Ratzinger suggested "restricting" Murphy\’s public functions and "requiring (him to) accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts," the Vatican told The New York Times earlier.

Its rationale was that "Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health, and that he was living in seclusion and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi added.

He noted that Murphy died in 1998 aged 72, four months after the congregation\’s instruction.

The "canonical question" addressed to the congregation, which Ratzinger headed from 1981 until 2005, "was in no way related to a potential civil or criminal procedure against Murphy," Osservatore Romano said.

A Vatican watcher mocked the statement, saying: "From the canonical point of view (Ratzinger) followed the procedures."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he told AFP: "This Nuremberg-style defence is completely inappropriate and cannot mollify public opinion."

The reference was to the 1946 Nuremberg trials of senior Nazis, who told the court that they had only followed orders.

Benedict has continually spoken out and apologised for the "heinous crime" of child sex abuse by priests, meeting victims in the United States and in Australia.

A French bishop who met the pope last week said on Thursday that the pontiff had been deeply affected by the accusations of paedophilia against the Catholic Church.

"He is not being allowed the presumption of innocence: I have confidence in his will to bring clarity," said Michel Dubost, Bishop of Evry, near Paris

The new revelation follows months of predator priest scandals in Europe, including Ireland, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, as well as the pope\’s native Germany.

Two revelations in Germany concerned the pope and his brother Georg, the first having authorised lodging for a known abuser and the second having headed a boys\’ choir whose members had earlier suffered abuse.

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