Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Catholic abuse crisis: Church hits out at critics, archbishop speaks of 'shame'

The Catholic abuse crisis swirling around the Vatican has grown this week, with a cardinal complaining about press bias and an archbishop writing of the church's 'misplaced concern about the reputation of the church.'

(Page 2 of 3)

In the later two examples, church critics say that Benedict's role from 1981 to 2005 as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican body that replaced the Inquisition and is its chief body for enforcing orthodoxy and discipline, should have had him firmly in the frame for defrocking these men. On Benedict's watch, an investigation against Murphy in 1996 was dropped on grounds of age and frailty (he passed away in 1998). Mr. Maciel was ordered to live a life of "prayer and penance" in 2006 and died two years later at age 87. Both Maciel and Murphy were buried with full church honors.

Skip to next paragraph

In another case that came to light in an Arizona Daily Star report on Thursday, deceased Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno wrote to Benedict in 1997 asking for his help to "expedite" a church case against Rev. Michael Teta begun in 1990. Accused of soliciting sex from seminarians in the confessional, he was only defrocked 14 years later, in 2004.

Bishop Pat Buckley, a renegade Irish cleric operating independently of the church, said that Benedict operated as the right-hand man for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. “John Paul II was a kind of ‘rock star’ pope who traveled the world but Ratzinger did all the official work,” said Buckley. “John Paul II took little or no interest in errant priests or even theology.”

Buckley says long before Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pontiff he was an éminence grise: “Ratzinger was the most powerful person in the Vatican once he assumed the office of heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Church hits back

Responding to accusations that Benedict has done little to address the issue of sexual abuse by clergy, the Vatican has come out fighting, not only complaining of press smears but also saying that Benedict has done more than any prior pope to root out sexual abuse by priests.

Cardinal Levada, who replaced Benedict as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, lambasted a New York Times article on how the Murphy case was handled in an open letter on Wednesday. He wrote that in hindsight Father Murphy "deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior" and said this was particularly true since "the case involved solicitation in confession – one of the graviora delicta [most grave crimes]." This means that Murphy's accusers alleged he had groomed them for sexual abuse while taking holy confession.

But he said the Times story was "deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness" because, in his view, it draws unreasonable connections between Murphy's crimes – which took place between the 1950s and 1970s – and Benedict. The Times wrote that Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland wrote to Benedict in 1996 asking for the Vatican's help in dealing with Murphy, wanting the priest to be defrocked. Levada said that the body run by Benedict approved a canonical trial against Murphy, but suspended it in 2006 when Murphy was in failing health.

"Only when it learned that Murphy was dying did the Congregation suggest to Weakland that the canonical trial be suspended, since it would involve a lengthy process of taking testimony," he wrote. "My interpretation would be that the Congregation realized that the complex canonical process would be useless if the priest were dying."