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Anti-Catholic critics 'framing' pope

The Catholic League for Religion and Civil Rights has come out swinging in defense of Pope Benedict XVI, with its president, Bill Donohue, proclaiming “the pope is innocent.”

Even worse, Donohue told WND, “the pope is being framed” by his clearly anti-Catholic critics.

Pope Benedict XVI is being accused of mishandling the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, a Catholic priest who was accused of molesting 200 boys at a Wisconsin school for the deaf between 1950 and 1974.

“No evidence has emerged that Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, knew of Father Lawrence Murphy’s case until 1996,” Donohue told WND. “Then, in 1996, when he learned of the accusations, Cardinal Ratzinger did the right thing by summoning an investigation, even though the statute of limitations on the case in Wisconsin had run out by then.”

In 1996, the evidence against Murphy mounted, prompting an investigation by Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland. A canonical trial followed in 1998.

Writing in the Catholic Anchor, Fr. Thomas Brundage, JLC, the then-presiding judge for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, accused the New York Times and other media of “sloppy and inaccurate reporting” on the Murphy case.

“In 1996, I was introduced to the story of Father Murphy, formerly the principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee,” Brundage wrote. “It had been common knowledge for decades that during Father Murphy’s tenure at the school there had been a scandal at St. John’s involving him and some deaf children. The details, however, were sketchy at best.”

“Courageous advocacy on behalf of the victims (and often their wives), led the Archbishop of Milwaukee to revisit the matter in 1996. In internal discussions of the curia for the Archbishop of Milwaukee, it became obvious that we needed to take strong and swift action with regard to the wrongs of several decades ago.”

In 1996, Brundage was appointed presiding judge in a trial authorized by Weakland, with the intention of bring criminal charges against Murphy.

“In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition in the chancery in Milwaukee,” Brundage continued. “I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could not travel more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home.”

With regard to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Brundage wrote: “I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all.”

Donohue agrees.

“The pope’s harshest critics are blaming then-Cardinal Ratzinger for not defrocking a man whom he many never have heard of,” Donohue said. “Isn’t the pope entitled to a presumption of innocence?”

Catholic blogger Scott R. Richert, writing on About.com also concludes attacks on the pope over the Murphy case have no basis in the factual record.

Richert noted that on March 24, 1997, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Ratzinger’s right-hand man at the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, wrote to Archbishop Weakland, agreeing on the need for a canonical trial.

“In other words, Cardinal Ratzinger did not ‘decline to defrock Father Murphy,” Richert wrote. “The Congregation of the Faith, of which Cardinal Ratzinger was the head, supported the attempt to defrock Father Murphy and even, as Father Murphy approached death, suggested that the trial be suspended and other measures taken to ensure that he be defrocked before he died.”

Still, atheist critics such as Christopher Hitchens, author of the bestselling book “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” continues to slam the Vatican on the Murphy case.

Hitchens wrote that he believes “the fatal taint” goes directly to the top of the Catholic Church, charging “we have as head of the church [Pope Benedict XVI] who’s personally as well as institutionally responsible for knowing of this, covering it up and protecting, not the children, but the predators.”

Donohue is not amused.

“Christopher Hitchens, the rabid atheist, wants to know why the European Union is allowing the pope to travel freely,” Donohue said. “Perhaps [Hitchens] wants the pope handcuffed at the Vatican and brought to the guillotine.

“That this kind of intellectual thuggery should emanate from those who fancy themselves tolerant and fair-minded makes the sham all the more despicable.”

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