Madison and The Pope

One of the guys from the old neighborhood made The New York Times in March. Wish it were under better circumstances.

Steve Geier grew up a Madison west-sider, just off Monroe Street on Terry Place along the shores of Lake Wingra. He was, and is, part of a big Geier clan in Madison. Steve lost his hearing after a bout of rheumatic fever when young.

Those of us who knew Steve understood that he was deaf. We also knew he wasn’t dumb. He was, and is, a smart, tough, likable cat.
Like many of the Geiers, he was a fine athlete. Steve in particular was strong like an ox. As my brother Bob reminded me, Steve would regularly jack a misplaced pitch into Lake Wingra from the ball diamond back by the boathouse.

Steve made The New York Times with an excerpted interview conducted by former Capital Times reporter David Callender. In the interview Steve, for the first time in public, detailed in graphic terms how, at the age of fourteen, he was raped by Father Lawrence C. Murphy. Tough story for a sixty-year-old married dad to tell to all.

Tougher yet, Steve was one of nearly two hundred deaf boys raped and abused by Murphy at the St. Francis school. Murphy’s case is the gun that won’t stop smoking. The wisp makes its way from Terry Place in Madison to St. Francis to the Milwaukee archdiocese, through priests, bishops, cardinals and finally to the current Pope Benedict, a former German cardinal named Joe Ratzinger. All of these guys had a chance to do right by our neighbor Steve Geier. None of them did.

Child rapist Larry Murphy remained a priest until the day he died in comfort at his retreat in Boulder Junction. He was never charged. Never expelled from the Catholic Church. Never defrocked. He was simply transferred to Superior, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Diocese’s version of Siberia, where he was also accused of abusing young boys.

Unlike the raped deaf boys, Larry Murphy was protected by the church. Among his protectors, suggests The New York Times, is Joe Ratzinger, the current Pope Benedict.

Steve wasn’t the only Madison boy abused by a priest. And Larry Murphy wasn’t the only Wisconsin priest using his title, authority and vestments to rape boys.

Several years ago I was playing golf with three hometown Madison guys. All raised Catholic. The name of one specific Madison priest was mentioned. As it turns out, I was the only one in the foursome who wasn’t accosted by the guy.

Guess I wasn’t cute enough.

This predator’s preferred means of child abuse was to convince young boys to wrestle with him in their underwear. Two of my friends had to fend off this guy at Holy Name Seminary the night before their weddings. Just how sick do you have to be to try to wrestle the groom in your underwear the night before you say his wedding mass?

The other guy and his little brother were younger when accosted by this priest. Both kids had been convinced to take off some of their clothes and wrestle the supposed holy man before the older brother, age ten, realized that something was terribly wrong. He ran from the priest, carrying his younger brother in his arms, out of the parish house and into the snow.

Two young boys, wearing nothing but underwear, running from a priest in the winter snows of Wisconsin. Wouldn’t that make a nice holy card?

So what do we make of this?

Blustery Bob Morlino (I don’t like to use titles for Catholic hierarchy anymore) will probably echo the Vatican’s talking points and vilify The New York Times, claiming Joe Ratzinger was not complicit in protecting Murphy. If he does, he will be wrong.

Indeed, the big question is that of complicity. What people were complicit in the church’s wrongdoings? And who will become complicit now that new information has emerged about horrid, systemic abuse cases just made public in Ireland and Austria?

An argument could be made that the everyday Catholics and good priests in Madison who choose to dutifully participate in mass and celebrate as if nothing ever happened to Steve Geier and his deaf classmates are now supportive of the cover-up, if not complicit in it.

And that by going along as if nothing ever happened, filling the air with hollow and arcane excuses, they are pretending to be just what the pope says he is.

A good German.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write johneroach@mac.com.

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