Monday, March 27, 2006

Staring abuse straight in the face

Mary Zahn in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel concludes yesterday's report on the aftermath of numerous claims that Father Lawrence Murphy sexually abused students while he was director of St. John's School for the Deaf in the 1950s through 1970s. What did the Archdiocese of Milwaukee know and when did it know it? It appears that by 1974 former students provided affidavits describing abuse and these were forwarded the Archdiocese. John Conway gives this account of a May 9, 1974 meeting scheduled in response to affidavits by former students describing abuse.
"We sat down in five or six chairs next to the archbishop," Conway recalled. "Father Murphy was sitting next to me. There were at least a dozen people in the room. Some were other staff from St. John's.

"Father Murphy was very sheepish during the meeting. He didn't say a word. He just looked down."

Conway said he was stunned when the archbishop began to explain that they had been aware of the problem for years.

By this account, our Archbishop was doing something about it because someone was complaining, not because he believed the conduct was wrong.
"Then they proceeded to tell us that they understood our desire to have Father Murphy removed from the school, but they felt that Murphy was so important to the school, its livelihood and history that they did not want to remove him," he said. "Instead they said they would remove him from having any contact with the children."

You might wonder if nothing more was heard about this from then until now, almost 32 years later.
On May 18, 1974, an article in the Catholic Herald Citizen announced that Murphy had given up his directorship of St. John's, was "relieved of all teaching and pastoral duties as they relate to the students" and was being reassigned to other duties at the school.

How about the secular newspapers?
In late summer of that year, Quant contacted this reporter, who was covering the Milwaukee County district attorney's office for the Milwaukee Sentinel. Murphy said in an interview about the allegations that he decided to resign because of health problems. The story was published on Sept. 14, 1974. Murphy left the next week.

People would have had to read between the lines to understand why Murphy retired. The Sentinel's attorneys refused to allow any mention of the molestations or what the victims had said because Murphy was not charged criminally.

We've gone over this with the question of the Church and its lawyers. If the paper decides on a policy that it will not publish against its lawyers' advice, the decision not to publish is still the paper's.

With Archbishop Cousins long dead, what account do we have of his side of the controversy?

One year later, Cousins testified he found nothing in his investigation to substantiate any of the complaints about Murphy. That testimony came in a 1975 sworn deposition in a civil lawsuit filed by a victim. Murphy "sacrificed himself for the school" after "harassments and threats," Cousins said under oath. The lawsuit was dropped.

Which seems odd if there were numerous students prepared to testify to substantiate claims of abuse.


Blogger Dad29 said...

Another trenchant observer asks:

"Where was Mike McCann??"

3:13 PM  

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