CNN repeats New York Times discredited attack on Pope Benedict

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.”

11 comments to CNN repeats New York Times discredited attack on Pope Benedict

  • John

    The mainstream media’s mission statement – “Repeat a lie enough times, and we’ll convince the sheeple it’s the truth.”

    Or it could just be that journalism today has gone completely down the drain… Thank goodness for the Internet!

  • Karla

    Cnn disgust me.

    There’s an interview here with Father Thomas Brundage regarding the Murphy case.

    There’s also a couple article fro Jimmy Akin regarding the Murphy case:


    CNN special on Pope repeats ‘debunked’ information on Milwaukee sex abuse priest, authors say

    The CNN special “What the Pope Knew” repeats “widely debunked” inaccuracies while trying to link Pope Benedict XVI to sexual abuse scandals, two authors say. They contend that the evidence in fact shows then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was not “in any way tolerant of, or insensitive to, the actions of abusers.”

    Gregory Erlandson and Dr. Matthew Bunson, authors of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing’s book “Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal,” discussed in an OSV press release a preview of the CNN special set to air on Sept. 25 and 26.

    “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?” Erlandson and Bunson asked, discussing the show preview posted on CNN’s Belief Blog on Sept. 23.

    The special focuses on the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, a priest who is accused of molesting about 200 deaf children in Milwaukee in the 1950s and 1960s.

    Earlier this year, the New York Times claimed that evidence from the Murphy case shows that the Vatican declined to defrock Fr. Murphy. The OSV press release claims that the article sought to depict then-Cardinal Ratzinger as obstructing the prosecution of the priest in the mid-1990s when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    The New York Times report used dozens of internal church documents provided by a lawyer who is suing the Vatican. Erlandson and Busnon said the documents show that the Vatican had approved the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s effort to investigate the charges and proceed with a church trial.

    When informed that Fr. Murphy was seriously ill, a Vatican official working under Cardinal Ratzinger recommended that the priest be stripped of any ministerial duties in order to expedite the process. The priest died soon afterward.

    “While the Murphy case is a glaring example of the poor oversight and inadequate communication that typified many abuse cases in the U.S. dioceses in the past 50 years, it does not show Cardinal Ratzinger in any way tolerant of, or insensitive to, the actions of abusers,” the two authors commented.

    “There is an important story here to be told about the Church’s attempt to address the abuse scandal, but getting to it will require news organizations to strip off ideological blinders and pay closer attention to the facts.”

    The authors have posted what OSV calls a “document by document” rebuttal on their blog at the website

  • SpeSalvi23

    Well, this is never going to stop. The same as the attempts by the MSM to brainwash us is never going to stop.
    They have lost the ‘Battle over Britain’ – at least temporarily, but they haven’t lost the war.

    The struggle continues….

  • Ann

    I am so depressed about this. Last Saturday they did a report from Britain about the Pope’s trip and though try as they may, they were unable to put a bad spin on it. I thought “Thank God, finally, people will be able to see the true Pope Benedict”. Within seconds my heart sank when I saw a promo for this CNN special.I just don’t get it!
    All we can do is pray.

  • Lionel

    Following the statement on CNN which you published yesterday, did you notice that only our dear Church is accused as if nobody else would have been involved in such shameful behaviour?
    Anyhow, the Pope cannot be responsible of what happens miles and miles away. It is the near Court of Justice of each country that should be in charge of solving individual cases and, if need be, of informing the concerned Institution of the outcome…

  • Sean

    Peter Hitchens made a very good rebuttal of these allegations on his Daily Mail blog a few months ago. He emphasizes that he is not a Catholic but an Anglican but he was very concerned by the misinformation being propagated by the New York Times and Jeff Anderson, the US lawyer who is making millions from sex abuse cases.

  • jim l. sekerak

    Thanks to your excellent coverage I was able to print your short summary re. the CNN show re. Pope Benedict which aired Sat. evening. I did not watch the show as it seemed rather familiar (as indeed it was) and I had two rather lengthy rebuttals from eariler source which I couldn’t lay my hands on quickly. Then I checked out your site-I keep it in my favourites- and was able to print it for her to read. She was quite disturbed by the show and thought it contained new revelations and was quite upset by the evidence against the pope. This also showed me what impact the visual medium has over and against the printed form, esp. given that my wife does watch CNN (I have come not trust them on certain topics). We are both committed Catholics and yet the impact was quite visceral and effective (in the negative sense) and it is no wonder that tv. has so distorted many issues and it seems almost impossible to balance. Muggeridge once opined that if the devil wanted to create a vehicle which would make the spread evil even easier, he couldn’t have come up with a more effective tool thean tv!

  • woody guidry

    I asked myself “why” and at this particular time. Then, I checked the population of Lebanon for demographics-there are almost no Jews, but many different forms of Catholicism and Mohammedans-and they may be seen as support for Hamas and other “outlaws” just when Israel is trying to become independent of anybody else in forming just its own government–without regard to the influence on the lives of their neighbors. Bashing Catholicism is a good propaganda move and no other consideration will supercede that fact.

  • If we all go to hell because we did not act as we should have done, would the Pope be reponsible?

  • I have occasionally used Pope Benedict’s situation on my blog to learn leadership lessons. Here’s my latest post:

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