Among the many skeletons in the Vatican’s vast closet, the one that keeps rattling most frequently is that of child-molesting priests. The most recent revelations involve one Rev. Marcial Maciel Dagellado, the charismatic founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a close ally of the late Pope John Paul II. Father Maciel died in 2008 but not before molesting hundreds of boys and fathering three illegitimate children. What is even more shocking is that it was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who vetted accusations of abuse against Maciel but took no action despite overwhelming evidence from a number of witnesses. Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005, a Church body that is responsible for dealing with such complaints and maintaining doctrinal discipline.
Maciel’s is not the only case of child molestation by a priest; nor is it the only attempt by the Church to protect itself from the fallout of negative publicity. Both in Ireland and Germany, priests have been involved in sexual abuse. In Wisconsin, US, no action was taken against Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who sexually abused more than 200 deaf boys between 1950 and 1974. Internal Church documents show that officials including the future pope Benedict and his subordinates were more concerned about worldly than heavenly affairs: protecting Church reputation by refusing to deal with child-molesting priests. In 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters from Milwaukee’s archbishop Rembert Weakland, about Murphy. Eight months later, when the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who currently serves as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, instructed Wisconsin bishops to launch a secret canonical trial that could lead to Murphy’s dismissal, it was quietly dropped before action could commence. Murphy wrote directly to Ratzinger asking to be allowed to live out his time. In any case, he pleaded he had “already repented and was in poor health.”
Interestingly, testimony from Murphy’s victims was ignored even by the police and US prosecutors. Three successive archbishops in Wisconsin were told that he was sexually abusing children but no action was taken. Instead, Murphy was transferred by Archbishop William Cousins of Milwaukee to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin in 1974 where he spent his last 24 years of life working freely with children in parishes, schools and, as one lawsuit charges, a juvenile detention center. He died in 1998, still a priest.
One can imagine the uproar that would have erupted in the “liberal” West had a local maulvi in some remote village madrassa in Pakistan been accused of child molestation. Not only the entire Western media, but even secular Muslims would be screaming for his head. When it involves the Vatican, or the West in general, the story is treated more for its titillating details than a serious matter to be addressed firmly or through legal means. The Vatican’s child molesters need have no fear.