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Vatican defends sparing priest named in U.S. abuse case

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. - Arthur Budzinski says the first time the priest molested him, he was 12 years old, alone and away from home at a school for the deaf. He says he asked the Rev. Lawrence Murphy to hear his confession, and instead the priest took him into a closet under the stairs and sexually assaulted him.

Budzinski, now 61, was one of about 200 deaf boys at the St. John's School for the Deaf just outside Milwaukee who say they were molested by the priest decades ago in a case now creating a scandal for the Vatican and threatening to ensnare Pope Benedict XVI.

Some of the allegations became public years ago. But they got renewed attention this week after documents obtained by The New York Times showed that Murphy was spared a defrocking in the mid-1990s because he was protected by the Vatican office led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the pope.

The Vatican yesterday strongly defended its decision not to defrock Murphy and denounced what it called a campaign to smear the pope and his aides.

Meanwhile, a group of Americans who say they were sexually abused by clerics held a news conference Thursday outside St. Peter's Square in Rome to denounce Benedict's handling of the case.

Peter Isely, the Milwaukee-based director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the Murphy case the most "incontrovertible case of pedophilia you could get." "The goal of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was to keep this secret," he said.

In recent weeks, Benedict has also come under fire over his handling of an abuse case against a priest in Germany three decades ago when he was a cardinal in charge of the Munich Archdiocese.

In the Milwaukee-area case, Murphy was accused of molesting boys in the confessional, in dormitories, in closets and during field trips while working at the school for the deaf from the 1950s through 1974. Murphy died in 1998 at age 72.

Budzinski, now a bicycle and furniture assembler at a department store, said Murphy preyed on him during the 1960s. The priest was fluent in sign language and often told the boys they were handsome, Budzinski said yesterday during an interview in which his daughter interpreted his sign language.

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