Mea Maxima Culpa: Voices Unheard, 4
“Christian” Brothers in Canada
The solid black screen provides an effective cinematographic tool with white letters typed by Terry in his missive to Murphy. Other times, a small screen to the lower right accents the black screen with videos from his childhood showing some scenes of his non-signing parents and some at school. Sometimes the typed letters shroud the entire screen. Throughout the film, music stitches a delicate underpinning. Mozart’s “Lacrimosa,” on the tearful day of judgment from his Requiem and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings set for choir to the Agnus Dei text of the Mass whisper in and out of the film’s texture — the poignant leitmotiv of the “Lamb of God” text from the Latin mass as musical witness to the continual abuse of the littlest of lambs by their ostensible shepherds.
Murphy had admitted his sins to a therapist, but in a state she identifies as “cognitive distortions,” he claimed his acts preemptively headed off homosexual contact among the boys themselves. He was, as he said, “taking their sins” on himself, teaching them about sex, satisfying their needs. Oh my Lord. In a filmed deposition, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, revealed his efforts to find a charge that could be used against Fr. Murphy. The secular statute of limitations for pedophilia had expired; the canon law statute had expired before that. Interestingly, the canon statute for misuse of the confessional has no time limit. Raping children has a statute of limitations in canon law; raping them in the confessional does not. In fact, this is one reason Rev. David Walsh (no relation to the Irish Tony Walsh), the visiting priest to whom the boys of St. John’s had complained, noted in a 1997 letter to the presiding judge of the archdiocese that “the reports concerning his use of the confessional to provide homosexual activities seemed serious enough to be reported.”
Weakland sent a request for a canon law trial to then-Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF. According to a letter released in the Wisconsin document set, he had contacted the Papal Nuncio in Washington DC, apparently hoping to get his concerns on a fast track to Rome via diplomatic pouch. He even went to Rome to speak with Ratzinger at CDF headquarters. Although the film doesn’t report this, my research reveals that Weakland requested a waiver of the time limits, but initially received no response. A year later, after the request had passed from office to office to office, permission for the trial finally arrived, but the move toward a trial was interrupted by the CDF because “Fr. Murphy is quite ill.”
Murphy had written to the Vatican claiming that he was in poor health and, furthermore, the actions attributed to him had occurred 25 years before and were therefore outside the purview of canon law. At no point does he even try to claim that he didn’t abuse the children. The Church took his side, referring to him as sacerdote accusato di sollecitazione in Confessione [priest accused of solicitation in the confessional]. So while it took years for the Vatican to respond to the abuse allegations, they responded to the abusive priest’s letter in just a few months. All action against Murphy ceased. Weakland gave up.
It must be said that the Archbishop was rather brave to go as far as he did, given the fact that he himself had engaged in an allegedly consensual affair with a male graduate student in 1979. The student received nearly half a million dollars from the Church and started giving interviews claiming date rape in 2002. The controversy surrounding this payoff may have muddied the waters, or it may have been the letter Murphy wrote to Ratzinger in January of 1998 repenting of his “past transgressions” and asking permission to “live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood.” Dignity? Oh my God. This priest, reportedly too ill to be tried for serial pedophilia, was well enough to go to a casino. He collapsed at a slot machine and was hospitalized. In August, a few months later, dressed in priestly regalia, Lawrence Murphy, pedophile, was buried in consecrated ground.
Laurie Goldstein, religion reporter for the New York Times, received anti-Semitic hate mail for simply reporting these facts. This amped up when documents obtained from the Vatican redirected blame from the American bishops to the Vatican itself. Ardent Catholic and arch-conservative Pat Buchanan attacked the Times with an article entitled “Anti-Catholicism and the Times” that begins with a deeply offensive quote from Peter Viereck’s “Anti-Catholicism is the Anti-Semitism of the Intellectual,” whereupon Buchanan goes on to amass a series of half-truths in defense of the Pope in his former position as head of the CDF.
Buchanan completely disregards the genocide wrought by anti-Semitism during WWII, the complete lack of murders by “intellectuals” on Catholics based on their religion, and he points to the aforementioned 2001 decision of Pope John Paul that Cardinal Ratzinger should be the repository for sex abuse accusations. What could the good cardinal do, he asks, when he was appointed to that particular task in 2001 and then became pope in 2005? Buchanan chooses to overlook the fact that a number of abuses took place in that four-year period, and that Ratzinger had been CDF head since 1985. The Murphy letters came to his office in 1996 and the decision to stop proceedings came in 1998. (By the way, this is the same pope who, in 2008, declared that any priest agitating for the ordination of women could be excommunicated. Equal rights for women? You’re outta here. Terrorizing children? Let me give you a pension.)
Because I’ve got an occasionally perverse sense of curiosity, I’d be interested in hearing how Buchanan would explain the firestorm of outrage that occurred in Newfoundland during Ratzinger’s term at the CDF. Michael Harris, one of Canada’s top journalists, writes for the Ottawa Sun, not for the New York Times and he’s not Jewish. Unlike Mea Maxima Culpa, which is divided into scenes that seem like chapters, Harris’ Unholy Orders is divided into chapters that seem like scenes.
James Hickey, born out of wedlock (an “impediment” to taking holy orders), worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Company radio and television. After having his impediment removed in the early 1970s, (Can you be reborn in retroactive wedlock? I’m just asking), he served as a priest for nearly twenty years, abusing children over the entire term of his priesthood. One of his adolescent victims became a priest and reported the abuse he had suffered at the hands of Father Hickey. Two months later, after a vigorous investigation, the Newfoundland Constabulary initially charged Father Hickey with 32 counts of sexual assault. With poetic irony considering his twenty years on the job, he pled guilty to twenty counts (the other twelve — repeat offenses against the same victims — were dropped). He went to jail in 1988 for a five-year sentence, one year for every five children whose suffering he caused. And this was just Chapter One.
Chapters 2–9 deal with Mt. Cashel, the orphanage run by the Christian Brothers. The Congregatio Fratrum Christianorum or CFC, a lay organization originally from Ireland, officially known in Canada as “Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada,” ran an orphanage that became a hothouse, breeding exotic strains of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Harris sets the context, chronicling a pre-Hogwarts environment where the students were divided into houses, each with its own color. Flags bearing the colors of the house excelling at academics and the arts were paraded throughout the main halls of the building.
As in the Wisconsin case, children who had few if any options were targeted by adult men affiliated with the Catholic Church. Shane, Billy, and Rick Earle, three of eight siblings from a broken home, were wards of the Province with nowhere to go. Their working class mother simply couldn’t support the children she had borne. But how could the families disregard the symptoms before their very eyes? Partly, as a parishioner described in a colorful aside, it was because of Newfoundlanders’ perception of priests as “as close to God as you can get without playing a harp.” Partly, social services were so limited that any port in a storm had to suffice for women like Dorothy Santuccioni who had three children, a terminal illness, and no other family.
But while St. John’s Father Murphy seemed to be the sole malefactor at his institution, at Mt. Cashel, Christian Brothers Douglas Kenny (Superintendent), Alan Ralph, Edward English, Joseph Burke, and their epigones individually terrorized the boys under their care as the limited resources of concerned family members combined with the limited courage of concerned public servants to create a containment field that protected the abusers. And unlike St. John’s, where the abuse was exclusively sexual and emotional, the CFC abusers included extreme corporal punishments, like closed-fist blows to the face.
Kids ran away and reported the abuses to Harvey Road Social Services, but eerily resembling the St. John’s situation, those dedicated to sweeping the horrors under the rug had bigger brooms and bigger rugs than those who sought to clean with the disinfecting light of sunshine. These latter found doors locked and windows painted over by the Church and by civil authorities unwilling to go up against it. Dubious serendipity aided the Church as well.
As with St. John’s not everyone was intimidated or tricked, but it seems as if everyone who was willing to help could not affect change, and some who could, wouldn’t. Some, like Alice Walters, a powerless low-level social worker, submitted memo after memo, to no avail. Some like Marcella Whelan, a home room teacher shown the marks of severe punishment on a boy, reportedly said “What do you expect me to do about it?” And some like Robert Bradbury, the supposed social services liaison with Mt. Cashel who underplayed the marks he actually saw, apparently neglected to follow up, and afterwards forgot the meetings — were just cowardly. Some workers were simply lazy or incompetent, in over their heads. In this category sits Royal Canadian Mountie Gerry McGuire, an officer of the law who claimed not to know that the law required him to report child abuse, and detectives who had both testimony and a physician’s report, but downplayed real evidence such that it disappeared into the void of miscellaneous reports. Some were obviously lazy and/or cowardly and/or incompetent, like Frank Simms, the purported Director of Child Welfare who decided that:
there is no intention or desire on the part of the Director [of Child Welfare] or his representative…to infringe upon, or threaten in any way the structured authority, discipline or administration of that institution.
In an evenly divided city, a Protestant detective in the Newfoundland Constabulary tried to take action after interviewing dozens of victims and achieving partial confessions from Catholic perpetrators, but his determination led to his dismissal from the case, a dismissal effected by his Catholic superior, who decided that Catholic leaders would be consulted regarding any further investigation. Foxes. Henhouses.
It took Detective Robert Hiller fourteen years to see justice. Each time actions could have been taken or charges filed, the Church was allowed: to take their own statements that, despite admissions of culpability, were never reported to police; to transfer perverts with no warning to the new locations; or to simply ignore the whole thing. In the meantime, the Canadian government kept paying the CFC hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for their various youth-based activities. As Harris aptly points out, things could have gotten politically dicey for higher-ups in the government if the Christian Brothers had been exposed. Too big to fail.
This might explain the convenient cover-ups that appeared from just around every corner where CFC corruption hid. It would have been cheaper to deal with the matter in a timely fashion because, eventually, a settlement of $11 million (Canadian) came from the government. This was six years after public pressure forced the reopening of the case. If they were hoping to receive at least partial payment of the money from the Christian Brothers, their hopes, like those of the innocent children they callously abandoned, were dashed, at least in 1997. It was not until years later in 2003, that the CBs were finally order to pay 83 victims a sum of $16 million.