Letter To The Pope by John Patrick Michael Murphy (April 1994)

In July, 1993, prior to Pope Paul II’s much-touted visit to Denver, Colorado, Mr. Murphy wrote the following letter to the Pope. There was no answer.

Dear Pope:

After forty years of carrying a burden that is not mine, I want to hand it to you. The press quotes you as saying you have “recently” been made aware of perverts within your priesthood. Your bishops have known about it and have been covering it up as a matter of course. Apparently, they haven’t informed you of their criminal complicity.

From 1953, when I was seven years old, until 1951, when I was eleven, I was sexually molested by Leonard Abercrombie, then of the Denver diocese. I am but one of several.

It occurred at Camp Saint Malo, and also the rectories at Hugo and at Roggen, Colorado. My mother and father, Gertrude and Martin J. Murphy, lifelong devout Catholics, were friends of this priestly pedophile and of course, had no suspicion that he was a pervert disguising himself as a priest.

My father went to Archbishop Vehr to find out why Abercrombie was sent to the hinterlands instead of keeping the urban parish where he formerly was assigned. Vehr could never divulge the reason but would only say, “Marty, the Church has its reasons.” In 1961, my father, not satisfied with this, went to Washington DC to meet with the Papal Nuncio on Abercrombie’s behalf. He was received because my mother is a recipient of pro ecclesia from Pope John XXIII which apparently carries the privilege of audience. No explanation was forthcoming in this venue either.

Strange thoughts and feelings come over a young altarboy when the object of his respect comes at him with an erection. They are still with me.

It’s strange, but I can almost forgive the corpulent Abercrombie for he was, and probably still is, a very sick person–but I will never forgive that so-called “great churchman” Archbishop Vehr for failing to protect me and the others that I know of and those I do not. Vehr took Abercrombie from the city and placed him in the country after reports of his pedophilia were forthcoming. The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming, especially when it is coupled with the Roman Catholic Church bishops’ pattern of criminal behavior in mollifying scandal at the expense of its children.

Now you are coming to Camp Saint Malo and according to the press, you want us to know you are concerned about the children. It took a while (centuries?), but it is refreshing to know that change is in the air. I hope it is not just fiscal damage control, as I understand over half a billion has already been paid out. I don’t want your money but I do want your ear.

I am writing this letter to have my name added to the list of victims, and Abercrombie and Vehr’s to the list of criminals who crashed through the lives of children so long ago. I am trying to engage in a little damage control of my own by getting this incubus off of me and onto you, your bishops, and your church where it belongs.

Last year I shared the overwhelming hurt I felt with my sister, Sheila. I told her that I shared Abercrombie’s conduct with my aged parents several years ago and they acted as if I was lying. I told her it hurt me to be ignored and to be shown Christmas cards from Abercrombie as if I had never said a word to them. I told her I did not feel that I was worthy of respect, in my parents’ eyes. She called Abercrombie in California and he acknowledged to her that I had told the truth. To his discredit, he denied the accusations of the other victims named. My mother and father finally believe me and it helped ease my resentment, anger and disbelief. One blindfolded by dogma and religious fanaticism cannot see the blindfold because of the blindfold. The criminal clergy have been with us for a long, long time and the harm they have caused is multigenerational. That is why it is so shocking to read the news reports wherein you state that “recently” you have become aware of the crime and the harm. “Misdeeds,” I think you called it. Since when is an abomination graced with such a mild term?

I have had charity taught to me by a red faced nun wielding a thick ruler (St. Mary’s Grade School, Colorado Springs, Colorado); been knocked out by a violent priest (Mark Jackson, OSB, formerly of The Abbey in Canon City, Colorado); had my girlfriend pawed by a drunken priest at Regis University, and you know, none of this really bothered me. I’m one of those people who never have to worry about being sucked into a cult as I have been immunized by Abercrombie’s penis. Unfortunately, it also immunized me from true intimacy and trust. That’s what I’m working on now and writing you this letter is part of that endeavor. I feel better already.

I’m not a member of your church and haven’t been since it happened so long ago although I went through the motions, much like an indentured servant because I had no choice. Your church never wanted to know how I felt–only what I did, and of course, I could not tell.

But I’m telling now. I have choice now and long after I left your church, I found a kind God of my own understanding. While you are walking around the skirts of Mount Meeker at the beautiful Camp Saint Malo, perhaps you could give some thought, not just to the youth of today, but the youth of yesterday, and do something about the children who are being hurt and the hurting children still within us.

Maybe the thought might strike you, as it strikes me, that it is another perversion to run a cabalistic church that prefers a sick, single male as a priest and role model over a healthy, married woman or man. But that’s another issue–or is it?

The Paulist philosophy which demeans women, chattelizes children, and endorses the elitism of one type of genitalia over another is absurd and even laughable but for the Tophet it causes. If you have enough courage to go out in public wearing that silly dress and hat, you could certainly admit that a big mistake has been made and help all of your children, especially those who divorced you.

The writer, a Foundation member, practices law in Colorado. He describes his community as “the Wheaton of the West, the Vatican of the fundamentalists, the home of Amendment Two and headquarters of about 85 religious organizations.” Mr. Murphy “fights off boredom” with a weekly call-in radio show: “Murphy’s Law.” He says, “It gets hot every once in a while when I do nothing more than simply state facts that the religious right would just as soon not hear.” He is a graduate of Regis College with his law degree from the University of Wyoming.

Freedom From Religion Foundation