29 Nov 2010

As U.S. archbishop, the current Vatican enforcer of doctrine & morals reassigned abusive priest, didn't warn parishioners

Google News - AFP April 4, 2010

US cardinal protected child abusing priest: court documents

By Lucile Malandain (AFP)

WASHINGTON — A staunch defender of Pope Benedict XVI in pedophile scandals now gripping the Vatican reassigned a US priest and alleged child molester in the 1990s without warning parishioners, court documents showed.

In sworn testimony in 2006 about his time as Archbishop of Portland, Oregon (1986-1995), US Cardinal William Levada said he decided to reassign the offending priest after he underwent therapy.

"The abuse in question had happened 20 years before, or so... the recommendation of the therapy was that he was not at risk for re-abusing and that it would be prudent to reassign him... and prudent also to put conditions that would make sure that he would not be overstressed to do some inappropriate behavior," Levada testified.

A transcript of Levada's lengthy testimony on his decision in the mid-1990s was provided to AFP by a lawyer of the victims of pedophile priests in Oregon state.

Levada now heads the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He was chosen for the post by his predecessor and then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who as pope now has come under criticism for failing to act against priests accused of child abuse in his earlier position as chief Vatican enforcer of Catholic doctrine and morals.

In the testimony, Levada was asked if he had warned parishioners about the Oregon priest's past -- inappropriate sexual behavior with teenagers in the 1970s. He answered that he had not.

"I took what I believe to be the prudent step of giving complete information to the pastor of the parish... and assigning him as the supervisor to (the priest) who (would) have weekly or regular meetings with him and so forth," the cardinal said.

"I took the steps that were appropriate and warranted to make sure that my reassignment of (the priest) was entirely responsible," he added in explaining his judgment at the time.

Despite objections, Levada said he did not warn the parishioners about the priest's past because it could have impacted the man's work and caused him embarrassment.

Much of the testimony presented at a Portland bankruptcy court came amid abuse accusations leveled against Roman Catholic priests in the United States and around the world.

The Oregon church filed for bankruptcy the day the first child abuse trial was supposed to start in July 2004, said Erin Olson, a lawyer representing some 20 victims of child abuse seeking compensation.

Similar court cases are also underway in Kentucky, Florida and Wisconsin, where Father Lawrence Murphy allegedly molested up to 200 boys at a school for the deaf in Milwaukee between 1950 and 1974, according to The New York Times.

On Saturday, the Times said that even though Murphy was eventually found out, he continued abusing children until his death in 1998.

Pope Benedict XVI has come under intense pressure amid allegations that, as archbishop of Munich and later as the head of CDF for 24 years, he failed to act against child abusing priests.

Levada called the earlier Times article "deficient by any reasonable standard of fairness," in a statement published on the Vatican Web site late Wednesday.

And the head of the US Catholic Church, Chicago Archbishop Francis George, also defended the pope on Vatican Radio Thursday, saying that as CDF chief he "enabled us to keep the predators out of the priesthood permanently in ways that were not possible before and... encouraged us to reach out to victims."

"None of that would have been possible had it not been for the legal permission and pastoral impetus of Pope Benedict," George said.

A CBS News poll conducted released Friday found that Americans are losing faith in Pope Benedict XVI, with his unfavorable rating jumping to 24 percent, up from a mere four percent in 2006.

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