Blog Post

Judicial Vicar in Fr. Murphy Case Speaks Out

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist The priest who presided over the trial of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, the Wisconsin priest convicted of molesting deaf boys several decades ago, said that because press reports of the case are so “sloppy and inaccurate,” he has decided to tell the “back story” in order to set the record straight. In an article appearing in the Catholic Anchor newspaper, Fr. Thomas Brundage, JCL, served as Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1995-2003 and presided over four canonical criminal cases, including the case of Fr. Murphy, during that time. “In 1996, I was introduced to the story of Father Murphy, formerly the principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. It had been common knowledge for decades that during Father Murphy’s tenure at the school (1950-1974) there had been a scandal at St. John’s involving him and some deaf children. The details, however, were sketchy at best.” Fr. Brundage was then called upon to preside over a trial of the now ailing Fr. Murphy, during which time he interviewed more than a dozen victims, some of whom had gone on to become perpetrators themselves. “I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.” He also said that Fr. Murphy just “didn’t get it” and was defensive and threatening during the proceedings. “In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition at the chancery in Milwaukee," Fr. Brundage writes. "I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could travel not more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home.” In other words, Fr. Murphy died while still on trial. However, this was not at all what The New York Times and The Associated Press reported. They attempted to make it look as though the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and then-prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, were lenient with Fr. Murphy by deciding not to laicize him. But this doesn’t surprise Fr. Brundage who said that even though he was presiding judge over the trial, not a single reporter contacted him. This is in spite of the fact that his writings were quoted liberally by the press with almost all of the quotes coming from a handwritten document he supposedly wrote in Oct. 31, 1997. “Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” Fr. Brundage explains. “The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that The New York Times, The Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.” As far as the accusation about the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith deciding to “abate” the trial against Fr. Murphy and not laicize him, Fr. Murphy actually died two days after a letter was sent to Rome by Milwaukee’s Archbishop Weakland in which he stated that he had asked the Judicial Vicar to abate the trial.  “ . . . (T)he fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.” He adds: “ . . . (W)ith regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.” Even more tragic is to blame the Pope when, under his leadership, a new and far more adequate system was put in place to handle these kinds of cases. Formerly, they were handled by the Rota where cases would often languish for years. Once transferred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, cases were handled much more expeditiously. The Pope “has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors,” Fr. Brundage said. “Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.” © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®