This weekend CNN are broadcasting a documentary, ‘What the Pope knew’ that claims to expose Pope Benedict’s direct involvement in covering-up child abuse in order to avoid scandal. In fact, all CNN do, according to US critics who report on the show, is repeat the discredited attack made on Pope Benedict by the New York Times earlier in the year. CNN pretend they expose something new, when all they do is ignore the true facts that have already come out during the intense media spotlight on the events in question.
This is what Greg Erlandson says about the CNN documentary. Greg Erlandson has written an in-depth, factual book about Pope Benedict and child abuse scandal with Matthew Bunson called, ‘Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis’.
“The CNN special, “What the Pope Knew,” which is being aggressively promoted by the network, was previewed today on CNN’s Belief Blog. Here’s the main indictment:
Though Church records show the abuse by Father [Lawrence] Murphy was brought to the attention of [Cardinal Joseph] Ratzinger and the [Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith] years ago, a Church trial against the headmaster was stopped and he was allowed to remain a priest.
The implication, of course, is that Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, interfered with the course of justice against an admitted pedophile priest, overriding the protests of local Church officials.
The facts show exactly the opposite. And the proof is right there in the documents published by The New York Times along with its article. We address this case at length in “Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal,” but here’s a quick summary:
Accusations were made against Father Murphy in the 1970s and reported to police and church authorities. The police failed to pursue the case.
The Milwaukee archdiocese removed Father Murphy in 1974 from his position at the school for deaf for deaf boys. The priest moved to a house owned by his family in Wisconsin. He never had a formal assignment in the new diocese (Superior), but did help out at parishes and with the deaf community there. He claimed to not have had sexual contact with anyone since 1974.
Alleged victims of Father Murphy (pre-1974) contacted the Milwaukee archdiocese again in the early 1990s.
Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland opened a trial against Father Murphy in 1996. Concerned that he needed a waiver of the statute of limitations (which at that time he didn’t; there was no statute of limitations then for grave crimes — delicta graviora — like sexual solicitation in the confessional), he wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. The cardinal’s No. 2, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, wrote Archbishop Weakland and told him to proceed.
In January 1998, Father Murphy wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger asking that the trial be stopped because the events had taken place decades earlier and thus violated the statute of limitations (although they did not), and because he was in poor health. (He died eight months later.)
In April, Archbishop Bertone wrote to the bishop in charge of Father Murphy’s trial. In it, he rejected the priest’s argument about the statute of limitations, but indirectly noted the priest’s ministry had never been restricted, and suggested there be other means of achieving justice for the priest and for the victims than through a trial.
The bishop decided to proceed with the trial anyway. But in meetings later in Rome with officials from the doctrinal congregation, he became concerned about the high burden of proof necessary in the case and the difficulty of the trial combined with Father Murphy’s ill health. In August, Archbishop Weakland wrote to the Vatican to say he had decided to drop the trial and instead restrict the abuser priest’s ministry and demand that he apologise to his victims
Father Murphy died two days later.
So. Let’s recap:
Cardinal Ratzinger’s office gave the initial OK to the trial;
rejected Father Murphy’s request that the trial be suspended;
and later suggested the local bishop take faster action to achieve justice than a lengthy drawn-out trial of a dying priest.
How exactly is that thwarting justice? And how exactly does CNN have so little journalistic integrity that it can repeat inaccuracies that were widely debunked seven months ago? And for which there is clear, incontrovertible documentary evidence available?”.
Phil Lawler, another Catholic critic of the CNN documentary, writes:
“This is a story about the abject failure of the Milwaukee archdiocese to discipline a dangerous priest, and the tardy effort by Archbishop Weakland–who would soon become the subject of a major scandal himself–to shift responsibility to Rome.
Eventually the misunderstandings in the Times story were cleared up, objective reporters recognized that the Murphy case was in no way a “smoking gun” demonstrating the Pope’s culpability, and the story slipped into the background. But now, six months later, CNN is resurrecting the same charges that the Times story made—without bothering to mention that the charges have been discredited.
The CNN report not only repeats the errors of the Times story, but ignores the powerful rebuttals that followed. Is this a question of journalistic incompetence, or something worse? Matthew Balan of Newsbusters inclines to the latter explanation, charging that the CNN show “left out key information in order to paint Benedict XVI in the worst possible light.”
‘In addition to the Murphy case, CNN has also unearthed the similar case of an Illinois priest who was convicted of sexual abuse. CNN contacted one of the priest’s victims, and “told him about a letter signed by the pontiff—then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—refusing to defrock the pedophile priest.”
What Cardinal Ratzinger actually said, in a letter to the bishop responsible for the case, was that the abusive priest could not be laicized without a trial. Under the terms of canon law, the accused priest had the right to defend himself against the charges. The Springfield diocese could bring charges against him, just as the Milwaukee archdiocese could have brought charges against Murphy. But the bishops supervising these cases should have handled the matters themselves, rather than shuffling the cases off to Rome for a solution.
Ironically these two cases cited by CNN —one from Milwaukee, one from Springfield– have something else in common. Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee and Bishop Daniel Ryan of Springfield both resigned after having been credibly accused of sexual abuse. In the headlong effort to indict the Pope, CNN is in effect relying on the testimony of two bishops whose own credibility has been gravely damaged by the sex-abuse crisis.”