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Attorney Uncovers Docs Implicating Vatican in Sexual Abuse Cover-Up

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We speak with St. Paul-based attorney Jeff Anderson, who has filed hundreds of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests and bishops since 1983. He filed a lawsuit last week against the Vatican in a Milwaukee court and wants the Church to release any files it has on sexual abuse cases involving priests. It was his discovery of previously undisclosed documents that fueled the latest wave of accusations leading all the way up to the Vatican. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today with a look at the wave of sexual abuse allegations against Catholic priests all over the world. Earlier this month, Pope Benedict told victims of sexual abuse by priests in Malta that the Church was doing all it could to investigate the abuse accusations and bring those responsible to justice.

But new revelations and claims of abuse continue to rock the Vatican. An investigation by The Associated Press suggests that Pope Benedict’s handpicked replacement to oversee abuse cases at the Vatican did nothing to restrict a California priest after learning that he had previously molested a thirteen-year-old boy. As the scandal spreads across Europe and Latin America, bishops in Ireland, Germany and Belgium have resigned, and new abuse allegations are emerging in Norway and Chile.

Here in the United States, an alleged victim of priest abuse in Wisconsin announced a lawsuit against the Vatican last week. The lawsuit alleges that Pope Benedict, in his former role as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and two senior Vatican officials failed to act when the Wisconsin church reported the alleged abuse by the late Father Joseph Murphy in the 1990s. The Vatican says the lawsuit is without merit and, quote, “rehashes old theories already rejected by US courts.”

Well, for more, I’m joined here in Minneapolis by Jeff Anderson. He’s a St. Paul-based attorney who’s filed hundreds of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests and bishops since 1983. He filed last week’s lawsuit against the Vatican in a Milwaukee court and wants the Church to release any files it has on sexual abuse cases involving priests. It was his discovery of previously undisclosed documents that fueled the latest wave of accusations leading all the way up to the Vatican.

Jeff Anderson, we welcome you to Democracy Now!

JEFF ANDERSON: Thank you. Nice to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. OK, why don’t you lay out the documents that you have uncovered?

JEFF ANDERSON: Well, the most recent documents involving Lawrence Murphy out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin have revealed to us, as we had known before, there is a direct documentary link from the cover-up of the priests at the local level by the archbishop to the Vatican. And in that case, it directly implicates then-Cardinal Ratzinger and all those at the Department of the CDF at the Vatican.


JEFF ANDERSON: CDF is the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, appointed by the pontiff to really keep these matters under secrecy seals and to investigate them to avoid scandal. And what the documents show us, as we have known for twenty-five years, is that the Vatican is really intending to keep the reputation of the clerics and the Catholic Church intact. And while doing so, they are really imperiling the well-being of the children worldwide.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you get involved with this case?

JEFF ANDERSON: Well, this case is one of many we have been working on for twenty-five years. In the case involving Lawrence Murphy, in particular, the documents came to us in forced discovery as a result of suits we brought some years ago. And these are documents that were just revealed to us.

In the case brought in Milwaukee, which is one of many that have been brought across the country, what we’re learning, and what we have known to be the case for twenty-five years, is that all roads are leading to Rome, that the decisions are made at the top of the pyramid by the Vatican. What we know is that the documentary trails that are being revealed are showing that, just like Lawrence Murphy and Archbishop Weakland covering up locally, they’re doing so under directions from Rome, from the pontiff, from the Pope and his predecessor.

And their directions and their laws and their protocols, which is what’s so alarming, require every cleric, every bishop, every cardinal, all the way to Rome, to keep these matters secret to avoid scandal of the universal Church. And in so doing, their concern is more about their reputation than the well-being of the children.

AMY GOODMAN: I was just in Wisconsin last night. Milwaukee, the story of this priest, lay it out in detail.

JEFF ANDERSON: Well, Lawrence Murphy was a priest that was in charge of the deaf school at St. John’s in Milwaukee, and he had many kids there who were impaired by reason of the fact they could not speak and particularly vulnerable, most of them Catholic. He would roam the dorms at night, picking out kids that he chose, and it clearly is revealed to everyone there that he abused, not dozens, but hundreds of kids. That became known in the '50s, ’60s, ’70s. In the mid-'70s, scandal was about to break, and they moved him to another location at another place in Wisconsin.

Then, in the mid-'90s, a scandal was about to break again, and at that time, the archbishop couldn't control the outbreak of scandal, so he sought the assistance of Cardinal Ratzinger, then at the Vatican, and said, “You need to take jurisdiction on this. We have to avoid scandal and remove this priest.” Cardinal Ratzinger, through his deputy and others, made a decision at that time, while knowing he abused many, many kids over many decades, became more concerned about their reputation, and thus, as the documents have revealed to us, made the decision that they will keep Lawrence Murphy in ministry, because it would be more scandalous to remove him than to keep him. So they allowed him to stay in ministry in good standing until his death, all the while ignoring the pleas of countless families and kids who were suffering in secrecy and silence and some shame.

AMY GOODMAN: The Catholic Church talks about, you know, forgiveness and wanting to give these priests a chance, one of the things that they have said. Yet when they discover a gay priest, they are out immediately. Not the same when it comes to a pedophile.

JEFF ANDERSON: Well, there are some deep contradictions, yeah, in their particular theology. But what concerns us and the survivors most is their concern about a reputation. And when they discover an offending priest, versus a gay priest, let’s say, but an offending priest, a priest that commits crimes, they’re more concerned about concealing the crimes and protecting that priest and protecting their reputation than they are about removing that priest or reporting him to the law enforcement authorities, which they never, ever, if rarely, do.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain this latest wave of allegations. I mean, they’ve been coming out over years, but this one clearly is a tidal wave that the Church now, going to the highest levels, has to deal with. What started this?

JEFF ANDERSON: Well, I think the latest wave of allegations coming to the fore that are right now on the stream of public consciousness in the US and worldwide is really an accumulation of information that has come to us and the survivors working with us and others through the lawsuits brought that have revealed documents and patterns and practices that have shown that, time and time again, not tens or dozens of times, but hundreds and thousands of times, when a priest offends, they are required by their superiors, from the bishop to the Vatican, to keep that secret. And that’s under protocols and laws developed by the pontiff, by the Vatican, that says, “We are required to avoid scandal, to protect the reputation of the Church, and in so doing, are embedded with an ethos, a norm, that says we move the priest, avoid scandal, do not report it to anybody outside a clerical culture, and continue to meet, move and protect the priest without regard to the well-being of the children.” And that’s why we see so many priests being recycled by so many bishops worldwide, because the Vatican requires them to make a vow of silence, to make a promise of secrecy, and to be absolutely obedient to the protocols of Vatican issues.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen right now?

JEFF ANDERSON: Well, they have to be — they have to take action, and they have to be made to take action. That is, this lawsuit and others like it that we are bringing are really demanding that they disgorge the secrets — that is, the names of the offenders and all the files that evidence crimes committed, current and present — and they come forth with that, turn it over to law enforcement, discipline the bishops, the archbishops, and every top Vatican official that has been complicit in this cover-up, and come clean with the history that has now been revealed to us, so that the children are better protected and that law enforcement and people outside the clerical culture are dealing with this, instead of the Vatican and those under their control.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Anderson, you have filed hundreds of lawsuits on behalf of sexual abuse survivors. Why do you think we’re coming to a different point right now?

JEFF ANDERSON: Well, we’re really coming to a tipping point now, because there has been now an accumulation of revelations over the last quarter-century that have revealed to us, and now are revealing to the public, both in the US and now worldwide, that there is an enormous problem, that all of us have been deferential to the Vatican and the Vatican officials. That is particularly acute, and the documents that have come through the lawsuits and the courage of the survivors finding their voice are now finally revealing to us and to the courts that it is not being addressed and that nothing has really fundamentally changed in the clerical culture and that the decision of the pontiff and at the Vatican, they are fundamentally still operating under the same protocols of secrecy and self-protection that they did a hundred years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Anderson, I want to thank you for being with us. Jeff Anderson is a St. Paul-based attorney who has filed hundreds of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse on the part of priests and bishops.

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