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Pope Benedict linked to molestation cover-up

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Pope Benedict XVI is under fire for his role in covering up a Milwaukee scandal that has received international attention and brought on renewed anger against the church as critics take aim at its highest official.

The Rev. Lawrence Murphy, now deceased, is believed to have molested as many as 200 boys from 1950 to 1974 when he worked at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis.

Then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, now retired, sent two letters to future pope Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who headed the church committee that decided whether to further investigate matters and strip priests of their canonical status.

Murphy was never tried in the church or in court and died a priest in 1998. He had been transferred to the northern Wisconsin diocese of Superior in 1974, where he continued to work freely with children until his death.

These realizations come less than a week after the resignation of an Irish bishop who did not remove priests known to have sexually abused boys in Ireland. Questions have also been raised about the Pope’s past record with sexual abuse cover-ups in Germany.

A statement from the Vatican said Ratzinger and the committee decided not to act on the allegations against Murphy because of a personal letter written by Murphy stating he was old and in poor health.

Murphy also argued he had passed the church’s statute of limitations for the crime, the New York Times reported last week.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests held press conferences in Rome and four U.S. cities last week. The group protested the church’s “lip service” to abuse victims and urged secular authorities to take up independent investigations on the issues.

In Wisconsin, members of the group gathered in Milwaukee and in Superior.

“We urged more people to come forward, and we are disturbed by the fact that church officials in the Vatican and in Wisconsin decided to keep these actions secret,” said SNAP spokesperson David Clohessy.

New York Archbishop and former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan remarked on the Murphy case during his Palm Sunday homily.

“The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year,” Dolan said.

“Anytime this horror, vicious sin and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew,” he said.

Dolan said the accusations against the pope were especially distressing. Pope Benedict has been a leader in church purification and reform, he said.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki will be meeting with Milwaukee church officials to consider making a statement regarding the recent allegations, said Julie Wolf, archdiocese communications director. As of deadline, the archdiocese had not issued a statement.

In the past, the archdiocese has made several statements on the issue of sexual abuse.

“Those who have been victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse are important to us and we continue to strive for healing and resolution with those who have been harmed,” Listecki said in a February statement.

The archdiocese has also changed the abuse reporting process since Listecki’s induction this year. On its Web site, the archdiocese displays the names of all Milwaukee priests restricted from celebrating the sacraments or presenting themselves as priests for substantiated reports of sexually abusing a minor — a list that now contains Murphy’s name.

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