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Vatican defends actions in Wis. abusive priest case

John Pilmaier from Milwaukee, left, and Peter Isely of the SNAP bureau (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) show pictures of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger now Pope Benedict XVI, left, and of father Lawrence Murphy, as they stage a press conference in front of The Vatican Thursday, March 25, 2010. SNAP members denounce Benedict's handling of the case that involved father Murphy, who died in 1998, accused of molesting some 200 deaf boys as he worked at the former St. John's School for the Deaf in St....

Reeling from a media firestorm following the revelation in church documents of a cover-up of abuse charges against a Wisconsin priest, the Vatican on Thursday fended off suggestions that their actions were inappropriate.

Early Thursday, a Vatican spokeswoman responded to a request for comment to the News Tribune on the case involving the Rev. Lawrence Murphy with a prepared statement from the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office.

"By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him," Lombardi said in the statement that called the case "tragic."

"During the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy's victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time; however, according to news reports, that investigation was dropped. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some twenty years later.

"It has been suggested that a relationship exists between the application of Crimen sollicitationis [church law on priests using the confessional to solicit sex] and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither Crimen nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities."

The Vatican spokeswoman said Lombardi was not taking calls and declined to answer whether, in his previous role, Pope Benedict ever instructed any church officials to contact any law enforcement authorities in the Murphy case or any other.

The Vatican's defense failed to resonate with protesters organized by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests outside church installations in five U.S. cities and Rome.

In St. Francis, Wis., Arthur Budzinski, now 61, told of being one of as many as 200 boys molested by Murphy at the St. John's School for the Deaf just outside Milwaukee.

He was 12 years old, alone and away from home at a school for the deaf, Budzinski said, when he asked the priest to hear his confession. Instead, Murphy took him into a closet under the stairs and sexually assaulted him.

Outside St. Peter's Square in Rome, Peter Isely, the Milwaukee-based director of SNAP called the Murphy case the most "incontrovertible case of pedophilia you could get."

"The goal of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was to keep this secret," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.