Brundage & Murphy, Redux. (UPDATED)
Over at America‘s In All Things blog, Michael Sean Winters wonders how the Catholic Church can defend itself without being defensive. He begins by expressing gratitude for the work of the secular media in exposing the sexual-abuse scandal. Then the other hand comes out:
Nobody in the press, not even the New York Times, gets a pass for shoddy reporting. We now know that the priest who served as judicial vicar in Milwaukee in 1996, who was quoted in the story no less, was never even contacted by the reporters. He said yesterday that one of the documents attributed to him is not, in fact, his handwriting and he pointed to several factual inaccuracies in the story.
Actually, no. While it’s true that Fr. Brundage wasn’t contacted for the Times story (his boss, Rembert Weakland was, and he spoke to the Times on the record), his description of the supposed transgressions of the Times was mistaken. (Update: Winters has apologized for his error here.) According to Brundage:
In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.” The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them.
In fact, Brundage was not quoted in the Times. (Apparently, as reported by Laurie Goodstein today in an important follow-up to her original article on Murphy, Brundage saw an AP story temporarily posted on the Times Web site that misquoted him and he mistakenly believed the Times had made the error.) Brundage is referring to a document posted by the Times for all to see. Look at that document. You’ll see Brundage’s name at the top of all three pages. You’ll see the singular possessive used to describe a decision only someone with diocesan authority could make. And at the end, the signature: a cross and initials. The signature of a bishop.
There is no “problem” with that document. The problem is with Brundage’s understanding of the document. Did he go back and read it before claiming that he had been misquoted by the Times, the AP, and “those that utilized those resources,” before complaining that he was “never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me”? Wouldn’t someone who regularly worked with and corresponded with bishops know what a bishop’s signature looks like? Why would he believe the document was a letter to him?–his name is scrawled at the top of every page. There is no greeting. No salutation. Could it be more obvious that the three pages are notes from a conversation he had with a bishop? (Fr. Brundage did not respond to my queries about the Murphy case, which I sent on Monday morning.)
Would the original Times story have been stronger had he been contacted? His column certainly provides helpful context. But given his confusion about this document, I have my doubts.
Update: For more on Brundage’s questionable memory about his role in the Murphy case, read this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.
The canon judge who said he was never told to end the Catholic church trial of a priest accused of molesting as many as 200 deaf boys appears to have drafted the 1998 letter sent by then-Archbishop Rembert Weakland to a Vatican official outlining those plans, according to a document obtained by the Journal Sentinel.