MILWAUKEE (CN) - The Roman Catholic Church knew about sexual abuse at a Wisconsin school for the deaf since the 1970s but did nothing about it because the accused priest was considered "too valuable to the deaf school to remove," one of the priest's alleged victims says in a federal complaint against the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI.
"John Doe 16" of Illinois says he wrote a letter to then-Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano in March 1995, claiming that the Rev. Lawrence Murphy molested him for several years while he was a student at St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisc.
Murphy is accused of abusing 200 boys at the school from 1950 to 1975. Although Murphy died in 1998, the case renews criticism that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the pope, knew about the accusations but failed to act.
"The problem of childhood sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic clerics ... is almost as old as the Roman Catholic Church itself," the lawsuit states. "Defendant knew that there was a high probability that these clerics would sexually molest more children, but sought to protect itself from scandal, sought to keep its income stream going, at the peril of children."
The 55-page lawsuit takes aim at how the Roman Catholic Church has handled accusations of sexual abuse in the past.
"While the 'public' policy of the ... Holy See is to forbid childhood sexual abuse by priests and clerics within its control, the actual 'private' or secret policy is to harbor and protect its abusive priests, clerks, bishops, archbishops, agents and employees from public disclosure and prosecution, in order to maintain the pope's rightful claim of control and thereby ensure that its parishioners, followers and financial contributors will keep confidence in the institution, continue to view the Holy See and the pope as deserving of allegiance, and, therefore, continue to contribute money and property" to the institution.
The lawsuit says Murphy admitted to Archbishop Albert Meyer that he sexually abused boys at the school. In 1972, the Archdiocese got a letter from a mother that outlined an "unfortunate episode involving [her] daughter ... and the administration at St. John's School for the Deaf in the person of Father Murphy," according to the complaint.
The lawsuit says a boy also complained in either 1972 or 1973 that Murphy has sexually molested him. Several other boys came forward, claiming they too were sexually molested, the lawsuit states.
In 1974, a group of deaf students delivered 15 to 20 affidavits to Archbishop William Cousins, but they were told that "Murphy was too valuable to the deaf school to remove him," according to the complaint.
Plaintiff says he wrote two letters to Sodano about his alleged abuse, indicating in the letter that Murphy has admitted to molesting 34 children.
Plaintiff does not offer any specifics of sexual abuse that he says he suffered.
"Ratzinger, Sodano and Bertone each knew or should have known before plaintiff's letters to Sodano that Murphy had sexually molested children," the lawsuit states.
Plaintiff says he did not discover that defendants knew about sexual abuse at the school "until recently" because Ratzinger and others purposefully dragged their feet.
"Defendant knew that there was a high probability that these clerics would sexually molest more children, but sought to protect itself from scandal, sought to keep its income stream going, at the peril of children."
Defendants are Ratzinger, Bertone, who was Ratzinger's boss at the time of the investigation, Sodano and the Holy See, with an address of Apostolic Place, 00120 Vatican City, Europe.
The lawsuit accuses defendants of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, negligence and fraud, among other things.
Plaintiff wants the Holy See to report all allegations of childhood sexual abuse in "each and every one of the United States," and "to act in the best interests of children."
He is represented by Paul Scoptur with Aiken & Scoptur.