CNN Hints Pope is Guilty of Mishandling Abuse Case, Leaves Out Details

CNN played an excerpt of its upcoming documentary "What the Pope Knew" on Thursday's Newsroom (see CNN's commercial promoting the documentary at right), and if this preview and its past coverage of the Church abuse scandal is any indication, the documentary left out key information in order to paint Benedict XVI in the worst possible light. Correspondent Gary Tuchman failed to explain how then-Cardinal Ratzinger's handled a specific case from Wisconsin.

Anchor Kyra Phillips introduced the excerpt from the documentary 24 minutes into the 9 am Eastern hour. The segment focused on the case of Father Lawrence Murphy, who was the priest and headmaster for St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. Phillips noted that as many as 200 boys at the school were raped or sexually abused by Murphy and stated it was "one of the most notorious cases of sex abuse in the Catholic Church."

Tuchman interviewed Terry Kohut, one of Murphy's victims. The correspondent stated that "fifty years ago, when he was just 10 years old, Terry, who is deaf, was sent to the St. John's School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What happened there to Terry and up to 200 other deaf boys is now central to the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and to the question of what Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, knew about it all." This introduction gives the false impression that Ratzinger was a cardinal five decades ago, when he actually was a priest and college professor in Germany during the 1960s.

After playing the first clip from his interview of Kohut, Tuchman continued that "Father Murphy has...been identified by dozens of deaf men who say he raped and sexually abused them as children for years. Father Murphy's abuse would come to the direct attention of Cardinal Ratzinger, but his handling of the case would stun Murphy's victims." The CNN correspondent didn't explain the then-cardinal's handling (perhaps an explanation is given in the larger documentary), but only played a sound bite from David Gibson of the PoliticsDaily blog, who back in April 2008, at the time of the Pope's visit to the U.S., accused Benedict XVI of irresponsibly exercising his office as pope. Gibson made a new accusation in his clip: "I think what the Murphy case shows is the deference that Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict would always give to the priest."

Actually, then-Cardinal Ratzinger involvement in the Murphy case was minimal at best. Father Thomas Brundage of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee rebuked the New York Times and other media outlets earlier in 2010 for their sloppy reporting on the Murphy case. Fr. Brundage, who presided over Murphy's canonical/church trial, stated that he had "never once been contacted by any news organization for comment." He also noted that he had "no reason to believe that he [Cardinal Ratzinger] was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information."

Jimmy Akin of the National Catholic Register reported on April 5, 2010 that the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith (CDF), the Church body which Cardinal Ratzinger led before coming pope, held a meeting on the Murphy case in 1998. Ratzinger wasn't even present at this meeting, which was led by his deputy, then-Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone. According to a memo from that meeting, Archbishop Bertone was "appalled at how long this case [had] been allowed to linger." Akin also explained that "the reason that the CDF was involved in this case is that it involved a priest accused of sexual solicitation in the confessional—not because it involved paedophilia. At the time, the CDF did not have a mandate to cover paedophilia (those were normally handled by the local bishop or, if appealed to Rome, by a different Vatican court—the Roman Rota)." The Register writer concluded that "[o]ne can still criticize the way the CDF handled the case, but the memo does not reveal a portrait of Bertone—much less Ratzinger—as unwilling to take action against Fr. Murphy."

At the end of his report, Tuchman asked Kohut why he was participating in the lawsuit. His answer: "I want the see the Vatican- because I've been waiting for all these years for them to excommunicate- defrock Father Murphy, but they haven't." Murphy died in 1998, and as Father Brundage explained in his response to the New York Times, "he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial" at the time of his death. Defrocking or excommunicating the now deceased priest seems like a moot point.

On May 3, 2010, Tuchman gave a report on Anderson Cooper 360 which tried to cast the Pope in the worst light possible regarding another abuse case, and omitted key details in that instance as well. This kind of slanted coverage is not at all surprising, given how CNN has run such reports on the abuse scandals since March 2010. On March 26, Phillips used the scandal as a pretext to bring on three left-wing/heterodox Christians who all advocate radical changes inside the Catholic Church. She even gave their agenda her endorsement. On April 16, correspondent Jessica Yellin misleadingly asked, "Why is he [Pope Benedict] having such a hard time saying he's sorry?" Phillips herself went further on June 11, stating that "we haven't heard" the Pope say he's sorry for the scandals.

The full transcript of the segment from Thursday's Newsroom:

KYRA PHILLIPS: At a small school for the deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as many as 200 deaf boys were raped or sexually abused by the priest and headmaster. It was one of the most notorious cases of sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Today, a CNN exclusive: the first interview with one of those victims, who's now suing Pope Benedict. It's part of a special CNN documentary examining what Pope Benedict did or didn't do about this crisis.

Our Gary Tuchman has the story.

GARY TUCHMAN (voice-over): At a lakeside retreat in northern Wisconsin-

KOHUT (to dog): Come.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Terry Kohut tries to escape his past. It isn't easy. Fifty years ago, when he was just 10 years old, Terry, who is deaf, was sent to the St. John's School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What happened there to Terry and up to 200 other deaf boys is now central to the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and to the question of what Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, knew about it all. Terry Kohut has never spoken publicly about the horrors he endured at St. John's. Until now.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): What did he do to you?

KOHUT (through translator): And then it was that afternoon, I went into his office. The door was closed, and Father Murphy said, 'Take your pants down.'

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Father Lawrence Murphy was the headmaster and priest at St. John's for more than two decades. He was a charismatic fundraiser and respected church leader. But Father Murphy has also been identified by dozens of deaf men who say he raped and sexually abused them as children for years. Father Murphy's abuse would come to the direct attention of Cardinal Ratzinger, but his handling of the case would stun Murphy's victims.

DAVID GIBSON, POLITICSDAILY.COM: I think what the Murphy case shows is the deference that Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict would always give to the priest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What actually happens in court-

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Today, Terry Kohut is suing the Vatican for what Father Murphy did to him at St. John's. His lawsuit is the first to ever specifically name Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. Until now, Terry Kohut has been anonymous, named only as John Doe 16.

KOHUT (through translator): Yeah, I was confused as to why it was happening. I mean, he was a priest. You know, I was trying to figure out what- I mean, I can't believe a priest would do that.

THUCHMAN (voice-over): The priest is believed to have picked out victims who were especially vulnerable, or had been through tragedy already in their young lives. Terry Kohut fit that pattern.

KOHUT (through translator): My brother was electrocuted- died when I was 10. And when I was 11, my father hung himself. And at 12, my favorite dog died, and it tore me up. And I saw Father Murphy, and I thought that he could be a second father.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Tell me why, Terry, you've decided to file suit- what do you want to see happen?

KOHUT (through translator): I want the see the Vatican- because I've been waiting for all these years for them to excommunicate- defrock Father Murphy, but they haven't.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center