MILWAUKEE — An Illinois man who says he was molested by a Wisconsin priest as a child filed a federal lawsuit Thursday accusing Pope Benedict XVI and senior Vatican officials of failing to protect children from a man the Vatican knew was a possible child molester.
The Vatican had no immediate comment.
The plaintiff, identified in court papers as John Doe 16, said he was repeatedly molested by the Rev. Lawrence Murphy while he was a student at the Milwaukee-area St. John’s School for the Deaf. The lawsuit says the abuse occurred over a number of years and included incidents where Murphy solicited sex in the confessional.
The lawsuit seeks the release of confidential Vatican files detailing clergy abuse allegations, as well as unspecified monetary damages. It also seeks a jury trial.
The lawsuit doesn’t list the years of the alleged abuse. Murphy taught at the school from 1950 to 1974.
Murphy, who died in 1998, is accused of sexually abusing some 200 boys at the school during that period. His case drew renewed scrutiny after the recent release of documents suggesting that a Vatican office led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now the Pope — failed to aggressively discipline Murphy.
John Doe 16 said he wrote two letters to Vatican official Angelo Sodano reporting the abuse by Murphy and asking for help.
The lawsuit says Sodano, Ratzinger and fellow Vatican official Tarcisio Bertone all knew about the allegations against Murphy and conspired to keep them secret. The lawsuit says the claims are based on “information and belief” but doesn’t offer proof.
“Ratzinger and Bertone each knew that their inaction and delay would cause harm to Plaintiff and other former deaf students,” the lawsuit states.
The court document suggests that the Vatican failed to discipline Murphy because he was a prolific fundraiser.
The defendants are Ratzinger, Bertone, Sodano and the Holy See, identified as the state of the Vatican City. Cardinal Bertone was Ratzinger’s deputy at the time of the investigation and is now the Vatican’s secretary of state.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has previously said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was only informed of the Murphy case some 20 years after the diocese knew of the allegations and after civil authorities decided to drop their investigation. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the powerful office that among other things investigates clerical sex abuse.
Lombardi has said that given Murphy’s age and health, and that no further allegations had been levelled against him, the Congregation suggested that the Wisconsin bishops restrict his ministry rather than stage a full-blown canonical trial against him.
The Wisconsin bishops ordered the proceedings halted, but in the end, Murphy died while still a defendant in a canonical trial.