The Vatican Spins; The NYT Wins


The Vatican came out swinging yesterday against the New York Times. And whiffed bad. The Vatican accused the Times of reporting “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness,” and insisting that then-Cardinal Ratzinger had nothing to do with the decision by his deputy to suspend a canonical trial against Father Lawrence Murphy, an unrepentant multiple rapist of deaf children, because he was nearing death.

The only way this can be the case is, again, if control-queen Ratzinger knew nothing of the final decisions of his number two in a meeting in Rome on a case where hundreds of defenseless deaf children had been raped and molested by an unrepentant priest for decades. That's the agit-prop being pushed out by some Vatican-sympathizers. They argue that because Ratzinger's CDF only got responsibility for child abuse cases in 2001, he cannot have been responsible for the 1998 decision. But Ratzinger was in charge of the case in 1996 to 1998 because

Father Murphy was suspected of using the confessional to commit his crimes a crime that is considered particularly serious under the church’s canon law because confession is a sacrament.

This is why Ratzinger is so connected to the Murphy case. And he was handling it for two years. What are the odds he knew nothing about it? Or that he had no sign-off on the final decision not to proceed with a trial?

But the NYT's coup de grace against the Vatican comes with the theocon chief witness, Father Brundage. Brundage had claimed he had been misquoted in the NYT, and that the trial was indeed ongoing at the time of Murphy's death. Brundage, now seeing documents he had not seen before, reverses himself:

Father Brundage, who is now working in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, posted an essay this week saying he was never informed that the trial of Father Murphy had been halted.

He also said that he had been misquoted in both The New York Times and The Associated Press. In an interview on Wednesday, Father Brundage acknowledged that he had never been quoted in any Times articles about the Murphy case and the paper did not misquote him. He said he was misquoted in an Associated Press article that was posted temporarily on the Times Web site, and he mistakenly attributed that to The Times.

He said the documents show that the Vatican had encouraged the Milwaukee Archdiocese to halt the trial, but they did not use strong language and actually order a halt. He said that he never saw the letter from Archbishop Weakland abating the trial until it appeared on the Times Web site last week.

So it seems perfectly clear that the Vatican did indeed make the final decision - against Weakland's wishes - not to proceed with a canonical trial, and Murphy was buried in full vestments, and his victims never got justice and the church had more sympathy with an elderly and dying priest than with the raped souls and bodies of countless children. The indefatigable Carolyn Disco, a commenter at America, and NCR and a Dish-reader, notes the critical meeting when the decision was made:

 Snip: The May 30, 1998 meeting with Weakland, Fliss, Sklba, Bertone, his deputy Girotti, and staff is critical. The translated minutes from Italian specify Weakland pleaded for a canonical trial to proceed. He specified six points, including Murphy has no remorse, many victims, fear of scandal, etc. Some of the translation wording can be awkward but the meaning is clear.

ETTALMiguel Villagran:Getty Then Bertone lists the problems of continuing a trial: difficulty in furnishing proofs, testimonies without increasing scandal, need for secrecy, long period of time, no other accusations from Superior diocese; that “there are not enough elements to instruct a canonical trial.”

Bertone lists what should be done by way of “penal remedies”  like restricting where Murphy can celebrate Eucharist (only Superior, not Milwaukee), and requiring permission in writing. Also that Murphy must give clear signs of repentance, “OTHERWISE he must be applied to a trial.” Clear signs of repentance mean NO TRIAL.
Bertone even “restates the two central points TO BE FOLLOWED” and lists them: (no discretion allowed) “1) the territorial restriction of the celebration (of the) Eucharist and 2) the needed remorse and reform of the priest.” That’s it, period.
The meeting concludes with Weakland’s pained “difficulty he will have explaining this to the community of the deaf.” Weakland would have no difficulty at all explaining the continuation of a trial but great difficulty in explaining the cancellation of one.

Notice that one factor in Bertone's decision - my italics - was avoiding more scandal for the church and needing more secrecy. Moreover, Disco notes how the Vatican bureaucracy, like most bureaucracies, finds a way to avoid full responsibility by anyone :

There is no separate written order by Bertone to stop a canonical trial (with or without his superior’s  agreement or understanding, ie Ratzinger) but there are minutes that specify what measures are “to be followed.”

There is no written order to Brundage to stop a trial, instead there are those same minutes he read, and a report of a status conference on the Murphy case with no mention of a trial in progress – just administrative measures related to “precepts.”

For clarifying details of what went on at those meetings at the Vatican and compelling case that Weakland was pushing strongly at the end for a trial and the Vatican was pushing against can be read in Disco's responses (7,8 and 9) here.

(Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty.)