Clergy abuse victims file international charges against Vatican

Sexual abuse victims file complaints against Vatican officials. Photo by Amanda Frank/ [email protected]

Victims filed a complaint to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands on Sept. 20, asking the court to investigate and prosecute high-level Vatican officials including Pope Benedict XVI and thousands of other priests, three of whom are from Wisconsin, for their roles in the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis.

The complaint and 20,000 pages of evidence were filed by members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Of the three Wisconsin cases, one involves a priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy.

According to case documents, Murphy allegedly molested approximately 200 boys from 1950 to 1974 at the former St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. He was also charged with destruction of church documents at the Dioceses of Green Bay and Milwaukee.

In 1997 Murphy was convicted by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and sentenced to dismissal. However, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican organization primarily responsible for investigating clergy sexual abuse and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, decided to allow Murphy to remain a priest.

Murphy died in 1998 without being charged or defrocked.

The consequences the accused priests could face vary from removal from priesthood to suspension. All accused have the right to appeal. End results will also differ because the case involves clergymen around the world, subject to different jurisdictions.

There have also been local accusations of abuse within the priesthood that were not brought before the ICC.

The Rev. Perry Robinson of St. Gerald Catholic Church in Omaha, Neb. was permanently removed as a Jesuit priest from public ministry last year on allegations that he engaged in inappropriate conduct with a Marquette University High School student in the early 1980s. There were also allegations in the early 1990s that he was in possession of nude photos of MUHS students.

Robinson was not one of the three Wisconsin priests named in the ICC filing.

Julie Pope, sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, went to St. Gerald while Robinson was a priest.

Pope was shocked when she heard the news.

“He came over for dinner one night with my grandmother and we all enjoyed ourselves,” Pope said. “I would never have guessed. … I was just shocked.”

Daniel Maguire, a professor of theology at Marquette, has written extensively about the Catholic Church and its struggles with sexual abuse, and said he firmly supported the victims’ right to pursue justice. He also said he wants the Catholic Church to take responsibility for its actions and not be let off the hook.

“Active abuse of children and cover-ups by any official are absolutely criminal,”  Maguire said, adding that victims have the right to go to secular courts to resolve the issue.