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Alleged abuse by Father Murphy continued in Superior Diocese

This 1974 photo shows Rev. Lawrence Murphy. The Vatican on Thursday strongly defended its decision not to defrock Murphy, an American priest accused of molesting about 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin and denounced what it called a campaign to smear Pope Benedict XVI and his aides. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

The Rev. Lawrence Murphy's sexual assaults of boys didn't stop after the Catholic Church moved him to the Diocese of Superior in the 1970s, according to two men who claim they were victims of the priest in northern Wisconsin.

Murphy's acts of sexual assault against as many as 200 deaf boys in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1950 to 1974 have been confirmed by the church, according to documents reviewed by the News Tribune. But allegations of similar crimes in the Diocese of Superior later in Murphy's career have not been widely known.

Donald Marshall, now 45, said he was 13 or 14 when Murphy assaulted him at a reform school in the north-central Wisconsin town of Irma at the eastern end of the Superior Diocese. Murphy was serving as an unofficial assistant pastor in the area.

Marshall, now of West Allis, Wis., had been sent to a "security cottage" for fighting, where he was confined to a room. Murphy, serving as a chaplain, visited him there, first reading from the Bible and talking about God, Marshall said. Murphy then began to kiss and touch Marshall, who says he got him to back down and leave. He reported the incident and never saw him working at the school again.

"Over the years I think I just blacked it out," Marshall, who is now suing the Milwaukee Archdiocese, said Thursday. "Then I started having nightmares about it."

It also led Marshall to alcohol abuse, he said, something he overcame six years ago.

Another man wrote to former Superior Bishop Raphael Fliss in 2002 with claims Murphy molested him several times as a young, deaf altar boy in Boulder Junction, where Murphy lived until his death in 1998.

"After Mass, I went to his cottage and was molested by Father Murphy in his bedroom even while his mother or relatives were there," he wrote. The writer was asking Fliss for $25,000 in damages.

The News Tribune reported Thursday that the Vatican office headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was aware of attempts in the 1990s to cover up Murphy's sexual assaults.

At a news conference Thursday, a representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called for Pope Benedict to admit his "grave errors of judgment" in the matter and his lack of a timely response to bishops' request for action against Murphy.

"What's the process for responding to bishops like [Raphael Fliss] to take these predatory priests away from the children?" asked Bob Schwiderski.

The Catholic Diocese of Superior and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee attempted to quietly defrock Murphy in the 1990s, appealing to high-ranking Vatican officials, including those who are now Pope Benedict and his secretary of state, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, according to church documents.

Though the Vatican initially gave permission to proceed, it reversed itself after Murphy wrote to Ratzinger in January 1998, saying he was "now 72 years old [and] repentant of any past sins."

When Murphy died seven months later, Bertone wrote to the Milwaukee Archdiocese, calling the matter closed with the "hope that the Church will be spared any undue publicity from this matter."

On Thursday, the Diocese of Superior issued a statement on behalf of Bishop Peter Christensen calling Murphy actions "distressing and scandalous" but saying he was the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

"It is our understanding that he went on temporary sick leave from his assignment at St. John's School for the Deaf in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in September, 1974. That same year he took up residence at his mother's home near Boulder Junction, Wisconsin," the statement read. "He was never formally associated as a priest of the Diocese of Superior and was always the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee."

A document released this week regarding Murphy's departure from the school in 1974 says that Murphy was to take "what will be called a 'Temporary Sick Leave' beginning in mid-September. ... This leave will extend until the end of November [1974]."

That leave turned into

24 years of working with children at schools, a reform school and parishes, in the Superior Diocese, according to church documents and victims' accounts.

A 1997 letter written by the Rev. Irving Meyett -- pastor of St. Anne's Parish in Boulder Junction -- defended Murphy against allegations to a top Milwaukee diocese official. He noted that Murphy supervised school religious programs, heard confessions and conducted confirmation retreats during his many years in that part of Wisconsin.

"Father's success with youth became well known in the area," Meyett wrote.

Mike Finnegan is an attorney with Jeff Anderson and Associates, representing Marshall and four others in a lawsuit against the Milwaukee diocese.

"We're really alarmed he was still working with kids that late," he said. "If he had access to kids, there are probably a whole bunch of [people] in Boulder Junction suffering in secrecy, silence and shame."