Pope Accused of Covering Up US Priest's Abuse of 200 Deaf Boys
The allegations centre on the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy who has been accused of abusing children in Wisconsin, where he worked from 1950 to 1974.
The Pope was alerted to the claims in 1996, when as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's department for dealing with particularly grave sins.
Victims said the priest had assaulted them in his office, his car, at his mother's house and in their dormitory beds.
Ratzinger's deputy initiated disciplinary proceedings against Murphy, but it was halted after the priest wrote to the future pontiff directly, appealing for clemency.
"I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood," Murphy wrote. "I ask your kind assistance in this matter."
The decision to suspend the trial was objected to by two American bishops handling the case.
One of them, Raphael Fliss, told the Vatican that he had "come to the conclusion that scandal cannot be sufficiently repaired, nor justice sufficiently restored, without a judicial trial against Fr. Murphy."
The Vatican scrambled to defend Pope Benedict XVI yesterday and, in an unusual move, released a detailed statement in response to the claims.
It said that reports about Murphy's paedophilia first emerged in the 1970s but were not reported to the Vatican until more than 20 years later.
The Vatican at that point batted the issue back to the archbishop of Milwaukee, suggesting only that he "restrict Father Murphy's public ministry and require that he accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts".
Cardinal Ratzinger, who led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 until 2005, when he was elected pope, had taken into account the fact that Murphy was "elderly and in very poor health ... and (that) no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years," the Vatican statement said. Murphy died in 1998, still a priest.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, he issued an edict in 2001 instructing Catholic bishops around the world to report all child abuse cases to the Vatican under strict secrecy, rather than refer them to the police.
A group of American clerical abuse victims staged a protest in St Peter's Square, demanding the Vatican open up its files on "predator priests" worldwide.
Peter Isely, the Milwaukee-based director of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, said: "This is the most incontrovertible case of paedophilia you could get.
"We need to know why [the Pope] did not let us know about [Murphy], and why he didn't let the police know about him, and why he did not condemn him, and why he did not take his collar away from him."
Two lawyers have filed lawsuits on behalf of five men alleging the Archdiocese of Milwaukee did not take sufficient action against the priest.
"The pope has said he is sorry," said John Pilmaier, who was abused as a child more than 30 years ago. "But what the pope will not admit is what he knew and what the people inside the Vatican knew."
The Vatican has faced months of allegations that the Church covered up child abuse by Catholic priests in the US and Europe, including Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, as well as the pope's native Germany.
Last week the Pope sent a letter to Ireland to apologise over the 16 years of clerical cover-up scandals.