Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop for his failure to report child-molesting priests to police — and faced a renewed reminder of the German abuse case most closely linked to his own time in charge of Munich.
Bishop John Magee — who served as secretary to Benedict’s three papal predecessors before returning to Ireland in 1987 — apologized on Wednesday to victims of any pedophile priests who were kept in parish posts during his 23 years overseeing the southwest Irish diocese of Cloyne.
“To those whom I have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg forgiveness and pardon,” the 73-year-old Magee said in his resignation statement.
Irish government investigators are continuing to explore Cloyne abuse cover-ups and expect to report findings later this year.
The Vatican is on the defensive over ever-unfolding accusations that church leaders have protected child abusers for decades in many countries.
Benedict last week issued an unprecedented letter to Ireland addressing the 16 years of church cover-up scandals there. However, he has yet to say anything about his handling of the Reverend Peter Hullermann, the case known to have developed on the pope’s watch when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he oversaw the Munich Archdiocese from 1977 to 1982.
Munich Archdiocese spokesman Bernhard Kellner said on Wednesday a new person has come forward claiming to have been abused in 1998 by Hullermann. Kellner gave no other details.
Irish society is still debating the merits of Saturday’s message from Benedict apologizing for decades of unchecked child abuse by priests, nuns and other clerics. The letter criticized Irish bishops, promised a Vatican inspection of unspecified dioceses and religious orders in Ireland — but accepted no Vatican responsibility for promoting a culture of cover-up.
Benedict also has yet to accept resignation offers from three other Irish bishops who were linked to cover-ups of child-abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese, the subject of a government-ordered investigation that published its findings four months ago.
Meanwhile, documents obtained by the New York Times showed that Milwaukee’s Roman Catholic archbishop warned a top Vatican office led by the future Pope Benedict XVI about a priest who may have molested as many as 200 deaf boys, but the priest was never defrocked.
The documents were provided by two lawyers who have filed lawsuits alleging the Archdiocese of Milwaukee didn’t take sufficient action against the Reverend Lawrence Murphy. The priest, who died in 1998, worked at the former St John’s School for the Deaf in St Francis from 1950 to 1975.
In 1996, then-Milwaukee archbishop Rembert Weakland sent letters about Murphy to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope. Weakland received no response from Ratzinger, the Times reported.
Eight months later, the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone — now the Vatican’s secretary of state — told the Wisconsin bishops to begin secret disciplinary proceedings, the documents showed. However, Bertone halted that process after Murphy wrote to Ratzinger saying he had already repented, was ailing and that the case’s statute of limitations had run out, the Times reported.
The documents contain no response from Ratzinger.
Weakland also wrote to a different Vatican office in March 1997, saying an attorney’s impending lawsuit would make the case public.
The Reverend Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican, told the Times in a written statement that the Vatican did not receive Murphy’s case until 1996, years after civil authorities investigated and dropped it. Lombardi also said Murphy’s poor health and a lack of more recent allegations were factors in the decision not to defrock him. He said “the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties.”
The Times obtained the Murphy documents from Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, attorneys for five men who have sued the Milwaukee archdiocese alleging fraud.
The newspaper said the documents included letters between bishops and the Vatican, victims’ affidavits, the handwritten notes of an expert on sexual disorders who interviewed Murphy and minutes of a final meeting on the case at the Vatican.
Anderson said he would e-mail the documents to The Associated Press yesterday. He said in a phone interview on Wednesday night that they show the Vatican was more concerned about possible publicity than about the abuse allegations.
“Instead of removing him from the priesthood, they just gave him a free pass,” Anderson said. “In this case, it’s a free pass at the highest level.”
After Murphy was removed from the school in 1974, he went to northern Wisconsin, where he spent the rest of his life working in parishes, schools and, according to one lawsuit, a juvenile detention center.
Previously released court documents show Weakland oversaw a 1993 evaluation of Murphy that concluded the priest likely assaulted up to 200 students at the school.
Weakland resigned as archbishop in 2002 after admitting the archdiocese secretly paid US$450,000 to a man who accused him of sexual abuse.
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