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The Catholic Church has forfeited its soul



Satan is taking names at Hell's VIP party. Next to pass the velvet rope is Pope Benedict XVI.

The New York Times reported last week that Joseph Ratzinger was once in a position to stop the sexual abuse of children at a Wisconsin school for the deaf. Evidence abounds that a case of abuse once came before him and he did nothing to address it.

Father Lawrence Murphy took up a position as chaplain at St. John's School for the Deaf in 1950. The first reports of his abuse came as early as 1955, when they were reported to David Walsh, chaplain of the deaf in Chicago from 1955 to 1963. They were reported to the Archbishop of Milwaukee, who said Murphy first denied, then admitted to the abuse.

Complaints persisted against Murphy up to 1963, when he was promoted to director of St. John's. A letter from a former student said he experienced abuse starting in 1964, his first year at the school. He was brought to Murphy's office as discipline for classroom behaviour and scolded as a "bad boy." The priest, however, took an interest him, inviting him back to his bedroom for lessons about sex.

There he spanked the boy with a belt and touched his penis. He touched the boy again in his dormitory bed and played with his genitals during confession. Murphy took him and other boys on trips to a summer cottage, to the movies and to various other activities, and touched him inappropriately in front of the others.

The abuse went on in every year that the boy spent at St. John's. In 1974 he wrote his letter detailing the allegations. Other victims began to come forward, handing out "Most Wanted" leaflets for the priest outside a Milwaukee cathedral. Murphy was placed on "sick leave" and he never returned to St. John's.

In 1993, in an interview with an expert on sexual disorders, Murphy admitted to abusing 19 children but he could have had as many as 200 victims.

In 1996 Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland wrote a letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican office that decides whether priests should be disciplined or defrocked. He got no response.

He then wrote a second letter that got a response from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Ratzinger's second-in-command, who instructed Wisconsin bishops to carry out a secret canonical trial that could lead to Murphy's dismissal.

Here's where the future Pope may have had a hand in preventing justice. Murphy, by this time 72 years old, wrote him a letter saying he was in poor health and that he already repented for his sins. The trial was called off and Murphy died a priest.

This is but one chapter in the long, sad history of abuse by Catholic priests. It is special not because the future Pope was involved, but because he has responded with indignation. He offered a prayer for sex-abuse victims at Palm Sunday mass, asking God to "help the young and those who work to educate and protect them." And then he asked Catholics "not to be intimidated by petty gossip."

Frivolous, isn't it, the allegation that deaf children were systematically diddled by the priest with whom their parents trusted them? Petty is the accusation that he betrayed their trust and their faith... and that the man later elevated to the world's highest spiritual authority denied them justice.

The ignorance of the Pope and his indignant response are proof positive that the Catholic Church has lost its soul. Faced with decades of accusations of abuse in institutions such as residential schools, orphanages and now support schools for the deaf, it continues to deny and deflect.

We now know that the Pope was in charge of decisions that saw priests get shuffled from parish to parish instead of losing their robes. And that in cases where that didn't seem plausible, he had a hand in halting investigations.

Benedict doesn't believe his institution resides in the physical realm. The robes, the chants and the incense somehow elevate his priests to a realm between humans and God - just short of divinity, just above accountability. It's a belief that has caused him to lose touch with his faithful and with even his Church's own teachings.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples that his way is the way to truth: "And the truth will set you free." But following the current Pope, it seems, leads you to the truth that your Church will abuse you and then cover up the crime. And instead of setting you free, it will shackle you to your trauma and deny you closure.

Dies irae, Benedict.