Fr Lawrence Murphy PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 23 October 2010 14:46 Father Lawrence Murphy

Born: 192, Ireland

Died: 1998, Wisconsin

Age: 74

Cause of death: Natural causes

Notable because: Ran and taught at a school for the deaf where he was accused of abusing 200 deaf boys in his care over a 24 year period. His abuse was covered up leading to charges being brought against the current Pope.

In March 2010, an article in the New York Times stated that Vatican officials, including then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), did not respond to credible allegations of serious sexual abuse of boys by defrocking the accused priest. Several U.S. bishops had warned the Vatican that failure to hold a church trial and defrock the priest could embarrass the church. Murphy is believed to have molested up to 200 deaf boys before the mid-1970s. Murphy was elderly and seriously ill when the first question related to the allegations reached the Vatican, two decades after the abuse occurred. Local law enforcement agencies also knew about the abuse and did nothing.

Murphy taught at the former St. John School for the Deaf in the Milwaukee suburb of St. Francis, Wisconsin from 1950 to 1974. After the allegations were made, Murphy was moved by then Milwaukee Archbishop William Edward Cousins to Superior, Wisconsin, a small city near Lake Superior, where he spent his final 24 years working in parishes, schools and a juvenile detention center. Murphy died in 1998, several months after he requested that the Vatican halt a canonical trial against him because of his ill health.

Critics have alleged that former archbishop Rembert Weakland covered up, or at least failed to publicize, some of the abuse, in particular by overseeing an evaluation in 1993 of Murphy. Weakland twice wrote in 1996 about the case to Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but received no reply. Cardinal Bertone instructed Wisconsin bishops to start a canonical trial that could have resulted in a range of punishments, including defrocking. Later, the formal church trial was dropped because a church statute of limitations had been exceeded, and because Murphy was elderly and in poor health. The Congregation suggested the archbishop instead punish Murphy by imposing penance and restricting his public ministry. Laicization would have released Murphy from nearly all obligations of priesthood, including the obligation to perform any penance ordered by his bishop. Archbishop Weakland said, "The evidence was so complete and so extensive that I thought he should be reduced to the lay state", and complained that the Vatican tribunals moved too slowly.

As of March 2010, there were four outstanding lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the case.


The emotional scars remain years later for victims of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest who molested generations of youngsters in the US Midwest state of Wisconsin. Donald Marshall, who was abused by Murphy when he was a teenager at a juvenile detention centre, said: “I haven’t stepped in a church for some 20 years. I lost all faith in the Church.”

Arthur Budzinski was abused at a school for the deaf in the city of St Francis, in the Milwaukee Diocese. Murphy taught at the school from 1950 to 1974, and even became director , despite the allegations.

Mr Budzinski said the priest would come to their dormitory at night and molest the deaf pupils. He was first molested by Murphy when he was 12, and was deceived by his “friendliness”. “If he was a real mean guy, I would have stayed away,” said Mr Budzinski, using sign language interpreted by his daughter. “But he was so friendly, and so nice ... I knew he was wrong, but I couldn’t really believe it.” One of the lawyers involved in the case said: “Instead of removing him from the priesthood, they just gave him a free pass.”

Documents show that the Archbishop of Milwaukee then, the Most Rev Rembert Weakland, warned Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone that Murphy had “no sense of remorse” and did not seem to realise the gravity of what he had done. He told the cardinal that three psychologists had concluded that Murphy was a “typical” paedophile who saw himself as “a victim”.

In the documents, the victims describe how Murphy “touched” them in his office, in his car, his mother’s house, on class excursions, on fundraising trips and in their dormitory beds at night.

Three successive bishops of Milwaukee were told that Murphy was abusing children. Yet he was quietly moved to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin in 1974, where he remained active in parishes, schools and the juvenile detention centre, where Mr Marshall lost his faith. Murphy died in 1998 of natural causes.

Father Lawrence Murphy was a man with charm and social skills. Small of stature, he was a lively, sociable, charismatic Irishman, who also had the rare ability to communicate fluently in sign language.

Watching him conduct a service with his hands is said to have been more moving than if words had been spoken.

He was the mentor and spiritual guide to hundreds of vulnerable boys – and one thing they learnt from him is that there are some disgusting individuals in the adult world who gratify their sleazy appetites without a thought for others. Father Murphy was a predatory paedophile whose crimes were all the more revolting for the helplessness of his victims. The pupils at St John's School, St Francis city, Wisconsin, were deaf. This was a boarding school, so there was no escape at nights from the vile priest who had power over them.

Anyway, he was the only adult many of them could communicate with. They were given no sex education, so they had no way of understanding what he was doing. Some may have thought they deserved this treatment.

Steven Geier was taken to St John's at the age of eight, after a high fever made him deaf. He was crying as his parents left, and it was Fr Murphy who offered comfort then, only to abuse him later. Mr Geier also witnessed about a dozen other boys being abused.

"Murphy was so powerful and it was so hard," he said in an interview four decades later. "You couldn't get out. It was like a prison. I felt so confused. Here I had Fr Murphy touching me. I would be like, 'God, what's right?'"

"It was an awful thing," another of his former victims, Joe Daniels said. "I felt anger and shame." Little Arthur Budzinski would hide under his bed, crying, when it was time to go back to boarding school. His parents did not know what was wrong, because as his 89-year-old mother Irene Budzinski explained years later: "I never learned sign language. When you had a deaf child, the public health nurse would say: 'Send them to some school.' We were looking for a good place. Who would think any harm would come to a young child?"

There is an old photograph of Arthur Budzinski taken in 1962, when he was 13, with 10 other deaf boys who made up the St John's School basketball team. Father Murphy is standing alongside them in a long clerical gown. Five of the 11 boys were sexually assaulted.

Budzinski witnessed a boy of his age, Pat Cave, being abused in the dormitory. They met again, 42 years later. Until that meeting in 2004, Pat Cave thought he was the only boy to have suffered the priest's attentions. In fact, he was probably not even the only victim in his family. He had an older brother who also went to St. John's, who was frequently called into Murphy's office at night for long periods. The brothers never discussed why. His brother died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 21.

No one knows exactly how many boys suffered at Murphy's hands in the 24 years he was running the school. It could have been as many as 200. Most said nothing about it for decades, if at all. James Smith had bottled it up for so long that when he began talking about it, at the age of 62, he started to shake and cry. He said: "I would be playing baseball, and the boys would come and say: 'Fr Murphy wants you to come and see him.' I would refuse to go, and pretty soon I was dragged into his office and molested again. I never told anyone. I thought I was alone."

But others did talk. Among the documents uncovered by The New York Times, there is an account, written in 1974, by a youth who had left St John's only four years earlier, and was prepared to go to court to testify against his abuser. He was so determined to be believed that he volunteered to give a description of Fr Murphy's penis, and asked that the court then check whether he was telling the truth.

Soon after being sent to the school in 1964, the boy had got into trouble with one of the staff, and was sent to see Fr Murphy in his office. "Fr. Murphy scolded me as a bad boy," he wrote. "Then he encouraged me to his bedroom and taught me about sex. At the first thing he spanked my ass with his belt and he started touching my penis while he explained the sex things to me.

"Few days later, again he called me to his bedroom and asked me to take my clothes off so he touched my penis and explained the sex things to me. So he started to bother me many times for coming to his bedroom and forced me to play the immodest things with him.

"Few days later he came to the boys' dormitory and to my bed and touched my penis while (name redacted) saw us from his bed.

"During my confession with Fr Murphy few times he played with my penis in the bedroom, in the bathroom, in Fr. Murphy's office... During the summer times Fr. Murphy took some boys and me to his cottage and on the way I was a passenger and sat near Fr. Murphy driving while he touched my penis in front of other boys.... For my six years, I suffered bad from Fr. Murphy."

It is hard to imagine what reserves of courage the youth must have drawn on to write such an account of a recent childhood experience. In that year, 1974, Murphy was at last removed from the school which he had run since 1950 – but that was all.

Murphy was allowed to quietly retire to his Boulder Junction cottage where Gary Smith and another victim, who asked not to be identified, said the priest took them and other boys during the summers and molested them. Generally the boys who were the top fund-raisers for St. John's would be chosen for the trip.

Murphy assisted at two parishes in the Boulder Junction area until 1994, when the Archdiocese of Milwaukee discovered he was violating restrictions that prohibited him from performing as a priest and warned him to stop. In the winter of 1994, the archdiocese's deaf ministry newsletter had a short notice that Murphy was "no longer allowed to celebrate the sacraments publicly or privately and will no longer do public interpreting for the deaf." However, Murphy continued to violate some of those restrictions, according to church authorities.

On June 21, 1996, Budzinski, Bolger and Gary Smith drove to Boulder Junction, stayed overnight at a motel and the next morning quietly entered St. Anne Catholic Church, about three miles from Murphy's cottage. They quickly tucked leaflets with a black-and-white photo of Murphy surrounded by the words "Most Wanted" into the hymnals. The men said they were concerned and frustrated that Murphy still had free access to unsuspecting children and their families, and they wanted him arrested.

In that same year, Archbishop Rembert Weakland learned that Murphy still was violating the restrictions and began disciplinary proceedings that could have brought his dismissal from the priesthood, authorities said. The final disciplinary process against Murphy, 72, was pending when he died Aug. 21, 1998.

It took years for many of the religious who worked at the school, former students and even family members of deaf victims to believe that Murphy - a man who gave his entire career to the deaf community - could have committed such abuse. Some went to their graves denying it ever occurred.

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