By John Jalsevac
March 26, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The NYTimes has set its sights firmly on Pope Benedict in its front page coverage of the fallout of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, which has been reignited in recent weeks and months after revelations of abuse by priests and religious in Ireland and Germany.
In recent days the U.S. paper has published a series of articles claiming to have unearthed information personally implicating the pope and/or "top Vatican officials" of having allowed a known child abuser to be put back into pastoral service, and having ignored requests to defrock a known child sex abuser.
The Vatican in turn has blasted the NYTimes coverage - claiming in one case that the coverage included no new information that has not already been soundly refuted, and, in another, that the paper had unfairly targeted the pope and the Vatican for having declined to defrock a priest whose alleged crimes had occurred over two decades previous, and who was dying at the time the Vatican was informed about his misdeeds.
At the same time L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said this week that the Times' coverage evidences a "clear and despicable intention" to strike at Benedict "at any cost."
"The prevalent tendency in the media is to ignore the facts and stretch interpretations with the aim of spreading the picture of the Catholic Church as the only one responsible for sexual abuse, something which does not correspond to reality," the Vatican newspaper charged.
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League labeled the Times coverage "the last straw," and said that, "the time has come to ask some serious questions about why the Times is working overtime with wholly discredited lawyers to uncover dirt in the Catholic Church that occurred a half-century ago."
On Thursday the Times ran a front page story about the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It began with the sensational lead line: "Top Vatican officials - including the future Pope Benedict XVI - did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit."
Fr. Murphy, a priest with the Milwaukee diocese, reportedly sexually abused the boys during his tenure at the school for the deaf in the 1950s to early 1970s. The abuse was brought to the attention of the civil authorities at the time by several of Fr. Murphy's victims, but though an investigation was launched, it was concluded without charges being laid.
Finally, over two decades later, in 1996, the case was brought to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which was then headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, by then Archbishop of Milwaukee Rembert Weakland.
The CDF ordered canonical proceedings against the priest to begin in Milwaukee, a process that could have resulted in Murphy's being defrocked. But according to the Times these proceedings were cut short after Murphy wrote to the CDF and Cardinal Ratzinger, saying that he had repented of his sins, and was in poor health.
Vatican Spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi responded to the Times' insinuation that the Vatican had "failed" to defrock the priest simply because the "matter could embarrass the church." Lombardi pointed out that, "in light of the facts that Father Murphy was elderly in very poor health," and that "no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years," the CDF suggested that the archdiocese restrict Fr. Murphy's ministry and require that "Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts."
"Father Murphy died approximately four months later, without further incident."
The Times' attempt to pin the Vatican's decision on Pope Benedict has also been weakened by the testimony of Archbishop Weakland, who told the BBC this week that, "At that time, honestly, I don't think that Cardinal Ratzinger was personally yet involved in those cases."
The other case that the NYTimes has zeroed in on is the one involving Rev. Peter Hullermann, who was accused of molesting boys in Germany in 1979. The case has received a great deal of attention of the past week, due to the fact that Hullermann was subsequently sent from the Essen diocese to the Munich archdiocese, which was then headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, where he was to receive psychological treatment.
While in Munich the priest was returned to active ministry, despite the fact that he still presented a risk to children - a concern that was proven valid as the priest later reoffended. Attempts have been made in recent weeks to connect the decision to allow the priest to continue ministry on the pope. However, thus far the media has been unable to unearth any clear evidence that the pope knew the specifics of Hullermann's crimes, or that he was involved in the decision-making process in his case.
Any effort to put the decision on Benedict has been severely undercut after then-vicar general, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, publicly stated that he was fully responsible for the decision to transfer Hullermann.
On Thursday, however, the Times ran a story with the headline "Pope Was Told Pedophile Priest Would Get Transfer." That headline was later downgraded to "Memo to Pope Described Transfer of Pedophile Priest," apparently due to the paper's inability to confirm that the pope had been "told" about the priest.
The main piece of evidence that the Times coverage touted as evidence for the pope's role in the decision, is that he was copied on a memo about the issue. "The future Pope Benedict XVI was kept more closely apprised of a sexual abuse case in Germany than previous church statements have suggested," wrote the Times, "raising fresh questions about his handling of a scandal unfolding under his direct supervision before he rose to the top of the church's hierarchy."
But according to Rev. Lorenz Wolf, the judicial vicar at the Munich archdiocese, the memo was routine and was "unlikely to have landed on the archbishop's desk." The Times reports, however, that Wolf could not "rule out" that the archbishop had seen the memo.
The Vatican also responded rapidly to Thursday's article, observing that it "contains no new information beyond that which the archdiocese has already communicated concerning the then archbishop's knowledge of the situation of Father H."
"The then vicar general, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, has assumed full responsibility for his own erroneous decision to reassign Father H. to pastoral activity."
According to the Vatican statement, the archdiocese, " rejects any other version of events as mere speculation."
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