Vatican shoots messenger

Via the NY Times:

A top Vatican official issued a detailed defense of Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of sexual abuse cases and extensively criticized The New York Times’s coverage, both in its news and editorial pages, as unfair to the pope and the church.

In a rare interview and a 2,400-word statement posted Wednesday on the Vatican Web site, the official, Cardinal William J. Levada, an American who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, praised Pope Benedict for vigorously investigating and prosecuting sexual abuse cases. He said The Times’s coverage had been “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness.”

Cardinal Levada singled out several Times reporters and columnists for criticism, focusing particularly on an article describing failed efforts by Wisconsin church officials to persuade the Vatican to defrock a priest who had abused as many as 200 deaf boys from 1950 to 1974. The pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office when the case was referred there, in 1996.

He said the article wrongly “attributed the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of diocesan decisions at the time.” On Wednesday, the archbishop of Milwaukee said the pope should not be held responsible for mistakes that were made in Wisconsin, according to The Associated Press.

The Times article drew on documents obtained from lawyers suing the church that showed that Vatican officials had at first ordered a secret canonical trial, then asked the archdiocese to suspend it after the priest pleaded for leniency to Cardinal Ratzinger. Wisconsin church officials protested the suspension, but followed it. The priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, died a few months later.

Andrew Sullivan comments:

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.

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