Page last updated at 21:53 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2010 22:53 UK

US man names Pope Benedict in Milwaukee abuse lawsuit

By Simon Cox
BBC News

Undated photo of the Rev Lawrence Murphy
Fr Lawrence Murphy died in 1998 with no official blemish on his record

A man who says he was the victim of an American paedophile priest is bringing a lawsuit against the Pope and the Vatican in a US federal court.

His lawyers want the Church to release any files it has on abuse cases involving priests.

The alleged victim, whose identity has not been disclosed, says he was abused by the late Father Lawrence Murphy.

Fr Murphy is accused of attacking up to 200 children during his 20 years at a school for deaf children in Milwaukee.

He was finally moved from the St John school to another diocese in 1974, but was never prosecuted or defrocked.

Attorney Jeff Anderson: ''This is the first case we have brought directly and exclusively against the Vatican''

A Church trial was opened after the Vatican received a letter from Fr Murphy's bishop in 1996, but it was not concluded by the time Fr Murphy died in 1998.

The alleged victim's lawyer, Jeff Anderson, says the Vatican has been negligent. "What we want the Vatican to do is step up to disgorge the secrets that they have in their files," he told the BBC.


The victim wrote to the then-Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano in 1995 asking the Pope to excommunicate Fr Murphy. The BBC has seen copies of the documents submitted to the court.

They include a seven-page letter to Fr Murphy graphically describing the alleged abuse and the effect it had on him.

"Do you know that you really ruined my life?" he writes.

The writer also says one boy abused by Fr Murphy later committed suicide. "God must punish you and send you to hell to stay forever," he adds.

There is a grave and serious problem, and all trails and responsibility for that leads to one place, to the Vatican
Jeff Anderson
Plaintiff's lawyer

The plaintiff says the Vatican did not reply to his letter, or to another one sent several months later.

The fact that the alleged abuse was linked to the confessional meant the case should have been referred to the Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). At the time this body was run by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

The CDF says the first it knew about the Murphy case was in 1996.

The lawsuit names the Pope and two cardinals.

Mr Anderson says his client is not seeking money but wants the Church "to fundamentally come clean, to come forth with all documents that have evidence of crimes against children for decades".

He adds: "Until and unless all of those things are done, there is a grave and serious problem, and all trails and responsibility for that leads to one place, to the Vatican, to the pontiff."

The Vatican has not responded to the lawsuit so far. In an earlier interview the Pope's spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, told the BBC that Benedict XVI had taken a clear line of transparency.

Last month a Vatican newspaper editorial said media claims that the future Pope had failed to act against Fr Murphy were "ignoble", and that there had been no cover-up.

There has been a wave of allegations that Church authorities in Europe and North and South America failed to deal properly with priests accused of paedophilia, sometimes just moving them to new parishes where more children were put at risk.

You can hear Simon Cox's full investigation into this story on The Report, BBC Radio 4, on Monday 26 April at 2030 BST.

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