Murphy case typifies church inaction

Photo courtesy Rev. Lawrence Murphy
Photo courtesy
Rev. Lawrence Murphy

I grew up Catholic.

And, having gone to Catholic schools for a few years, I, like many other young Catholic men, considered becoming a priest. In fact, in 2001, I had a spiritual adviser with the Society of Jesus [The Jesuits], and was as close as I’d ever been to giving up my life all for God. My decision not to become a priest, however, is one I rarely regret — and was one I made in 2002, just as there was widespread news of the sex-abuse scandal breaking.

First, it was Boston. Then Milwaukee. Then, it seemed, everywhere else in America.

Tons of priests stood accused of sexually abusing children, as far back as the 1950s. Perhaps even longer. Boston was the worst spot for it. And the news of the cover-ups by bishops and the Vatican was indefensible — though some still would go on to do so.

We would learn Pope John Paul II knew of so many of the cases. He ordered then- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to oversee every single case of abuse in the church worldwide. And before and during his papacy, Benedict, we’d also learn, did a very good acting job, pretending he gave a crap about the victims of the abuse when, in reality, his major focus was on protecting many of the priests who stood accused of abuse.

A few years ago, however, we learned of one of the more egregious cases of abuse. It took place at a school for the deaf in Milwaukee. The sex abuse was at the hands of the late Rev. Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and it happened from 1960 to 1974 at the school — and then later on after Murphy was removed from the school. That abuse happened even after the archbishop at that time was fully aware that Murphy was a sexual predator of the worst proportions.

It all started in 1960 when Murphy was made the director of the school for the deaf. He was very meticulous about whom he chose to abuse. According to the documentary, “Mea Maxima Culpa, Silence in the House of God,” the boys whose parents didn’t know sign language were the best targets, because they weren’t able to tell their parents — or communicate to them properly — that a priest was fondling them.

And heck, who would believe them anyway, right? A priest in 1960 was held in the highest regard, often seen as someone greater than just a human being, even though, in reality, he wasn’t.

For years this went on.

Most of the boys just kept quiet. Some even thought it was an honor that Murphy had chosen them to be his “special friends.” They believed they were special because Murphy would take them to his summer cottage when school was out of session — even though they’d be sexually abused there, too.

He’d chose one of them, each night, to sleep in his bed with him, while the others slept elsewhere. And, at night, he would prey on the boy in his bed.

This, too, went on and on for years.

That was, until, finally, someone decided to speak up.

Ratzinger was complicit in much of the church’s abuse scandal, having done very little to stop it all — and despite every single abuse case coming across his desk in Rome.

But the thing is — at first, no one believed the kids. In fact, after a visiting priest reported all of this news to the archbishop and authorities, the police actually believed Murphy when he said: “These are kids just trying to cause trouble.” The archbishop also said, amazingly: “These kids are all deaf. Their word means absolutely nothing.”

So while officials were aware Murphy was a predator, he was left alone until 1974 to continue to abuse these poor boys, today in their 50s.

The boys were all helpless — and doomed.

I’ll stop describing the documentary and its contents here because I hope you’ll take time to watch it. It’s available on HBOGo. But the simple reality is this — beyond Murphy’s case — there were so many others that were ignored that after all these years, it’s still unfathomable that all of this went on without much intervention from local dioceses or the Roman Curia.

That John Paul II is a saint, today, is disturbing, knowing what he knew — and knowing what he did and didn’t do — to fix things.

Murphy used a second-floor closet in the school for the deaf to hear confessions. When the confessing was over, he’d engage in sexual activity with the boys right in the closet.

That none of the officials who knew this story and did nothing about it aren’t behind bars today is maddening.

Watch the documentary for yourself to learn more. But be prepared: You might not have ever seen deception at this level before in your life.

Odds and ends 

• Next week, Ron Leir and I will recap 2015 — and what a year it was. Ron is handling the months of July to December and I will recap January to June. Be sure to look for it in next week’s issue of The Observer.

• What a horrifying story out of Las Vegas Sunday night, where a woman drove her 1996 Oldsmobile on to the sidewalk in three different locations on the Strip, injuring at least 37 and killing one. The LVPD said the woman, in her 20s, did this purposefully and with a 3-year-old kid in the car.

Fortunately, the woman, whose name hadn’t been released as of presstime, is behind bars at the Clark County Detention Center in Nevada.

What led her to do this is anybody’s guess at this point, but it’s yet another reminder of just how much needs to change with dealing with the mentally ill in this country. [Yes, chances are we will find she was suffering from some kind of mental affliction]. If only someone, anyone, in Washington, D.C., truly cared.

• As I close out this week’s column, I want to take time to wish each of you the happiest of holidays, a belated joyful Hanukkah, the Merriest Christmas, a most joy-filled Kwanza or whatever it is you do or don’t celebrate this month. It is an honor for me to still write on the pages of this newspaper for the people of the hometown I love so much in Kearny — and for the people of the other towns we also serve. Talk about already having the greatest Christmas gift possible!

I truly hope this Holiday Season is filled with happiness and peace.

Until three weeks from now, all the best this Holiday Season — and all the best for a great 2016.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer, and do not reflect the opinions of The Observer and its management. Contact Kevin Canessa Jr. at kc@theobserver. com, or on Facebook or Twitter @KevinCanessa. 

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.