The Vatican is taking time out of its Holy Week celebration to fight back against The New York Times for the paper's coverage of the ongoing sex abuse scandal. The latest report has rocked the Church -- and the Vatican has responded with an angry attack on the Times and U.S. media for running the damning story.
The report claims that in 1996, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who of course is now Pope Benedict XVI, took part in a cover up of a Wisconsin priest accused of molesting hundreds of deaf children.
The Times reports that according to court documents related to a lawsuit, Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters from Milwaukee's archbishop about the case involving Father Lawrence Murphy. Later, the Vatican's planned secret canonical trial of Murphy was stopped, after Murphy wrote a personal letter to Ratzinger, saying he was ill and begging to be left alone.
“I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood,” Murphy wrote near the end of his life to Ratzinger. “I ask your kind assistance in this matter.” The files contain no response from Ratzinger.
Murphy died a few months later in 1998, never to be disciplined.
In a rare interview and a 2,400-word statement posted Wednesday on the Vatican Web site, Cardinal William Levada, an American who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, praised Pope Benedict for vigorously investigating and prosecuting sexual abuse cases. He said The Times’ coverage had been “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness.”
Levada admitted the evidence shows Murphy was a "serial abuser of helpless children," but defended the decision to halt the trial. He said it would be “useless if the priest were dying. Have you ever been to a trial? Do you know how long they take?” he said. “If the man had had a miraculous recovery and doctors said he’d live another 10 years, I’m sure a letter would say fine, ‘Start the trial.’"
But still, Levada says it's not fair for the media to blame Benedict for any of this. “Anyone can say, ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ ‘You could have done this better.’ That’s part of life, but certainly it’s not the case to say that he is deficient."
He added, "I am not proud of America's newspaper of record, The New York Times, as a paragon of fairness."
A spokeswoman for The Times defended the paper's articles on the scandal and said no one has cast doubt on the reported facts.
"The allegations of abuse within the Catholic Church are a serious subject, as the Vatican has acknowledged on many occasions," said Diane McNulty. "Any role the current Pope may have played in responding to those allegations over the years is a significant aspect of this story."