NY Times goes all tabloid on the Pope

Okay, hold on. I was going to write about the Pope's recent letter to Ireland's Catholics, but instead I want to talk about the story on the front page of the NY Times on March 25. Just because so many of the Bishops have made some grotesque errors in judgment doesn't mean that the NY Times should take leave of its editorial senses and adopt the sensationalist policies of a British tabloid.

The story the Times tells is another one about a priest who violated his vows, the innocence of children and the trust of their parents. Fr. Lawrence Murphy was an Assistant Director, Director and eventually Principal at St. John's School for the Deaf, a residential school in Milwaukee, from 1950 – 1974.

During that time Fr. Murphy sexually molested dozens of boys, perhaps even as many as 200. It's a horrific tale, made worse by the fact that Fr. Murphy preyed on deaf children for whom communicating what was happening to them was that much more difficult.

When in 1974 the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was told by the boys what had happened to them Fr. Murphy was relieved of his duties at St. John's and basically ordered to go back and live with his mother in a different part of Wisconsin, in a different diocese. The Times says at the time the police and prosecutors "ignored reports" from Fr. Murphy's victims, so there doesn't seem to be the same cover-up concerns that are a feature of most of these stories. Murphy's abuse of children seems to have stopped with his removal from St. John's in 1974.

That story, however, has already been told by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel back in March 2006 and is told in detail at BishopAccountability.org. The Times connects the story to Pope Benedict, which is why it was on the front page.

The Times reveals that in January 1998 while the Church was proceeding with the process to laicize Fr. Murphy, he wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger appealing to him to stop this process on the grounds that (a) it was outside the norms of Church law (time limits) and (b) he was in poor health, having just "suffered another stroke." Three months later Ratzinger's secretary asked Milwaukee to drop the case. Four months after that Fr. Murphy was dead.

So there's the crux of the scandal that the Times saw fit to blaze on its front page. No legal cover-up, simply an old sinner's appeal for mercy and, apparently, a positive response from Cardinal Ratzinger.

Now I wish Cardinal Ratzinger hadn't done that. I'd rather have seen Fr. Murphy suffer, but I'm not a priest nor a bishop. I'm not in the business of forgiveness or mercy, but I can accept that this is a core function for a priest.

I'd like to be happy that the Times is so hard-line on the application of justice, but anyone who reads the paper regularly knows that not to be true. I'm still waiting for their editorial condemning the Scots for releasing Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted of murdering 270 people over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988 and who was released last year for dubious medical reasons.

No the truth is the Times picked up on an old, terrible story and used a thin connection to tie it to the Pope in an attempt to discredit him. That's it. The British tabloids would be proud of the Times' efforts.

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