Dean Weissmuller lost his hearing at age 3 when he was struck by a car on Chicago’s North Side.
He says lost his innocence about six years later when a priest at a boarding school for deaf children and a dormitory supervisor repeatedly molested him.
Weissmuller is one of more than 150 hearing-impaired men, many originally from the Chicago area, who say they were abused by Father Lawrence C. Murphy, a Roman Catholic priest who worked at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee for 24 years.
Correspondence obtained by Weissmuller’s lawyers as part of a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee reveal that Chicago’s chaplain for the deaf at the time relayed complaints to two Milwaukee archbishops and the apostolic nuncio, the Vatican’s American diplomat, before Murphy left the school.
Weissmuller, now 51, and four other men who filed a lawsuit in August learned in March that they were part of a scandal with global implications. The New York Times revealed new evidence that the future Pope Benedict XVI might have known about Murphy’s misconduct at least a few years before he died, but never took steps to remove him from the priesthood.
“I’m wondering why he let Father Murphy keep working there,” Weissmuller said, speaking through an American Sign Language translator. “Why wasn’t Murphy arrested?”
Weissmuller, who now lives in Phoenix, said he first met Murphy when he and his family drove up from their home in suburban Glenview, Ill., to tour the boarding school in December 1968. He enrolled in St. John’s elementary school the next month. Weissmuller recalls clashing with the nuns on campus. But he initially thought Murphy was “a very nice man.”
That opinion changed when a nun caught Weissmuller kissing a girl and sent him to Murphy’s office to be disciplined. Murphy asked him to return to his office later that night, Weissmuller said.
“He asked me a bunch of questions and asked me what happened with the girl and stuff,” he said. “He asked me to take my clothes off. . . . I felt like I had to do what he said.”
Weissmuller expected Murphy to whip him with a belt. Instead, he said, the priest fondled him, then gave him a blessing. That routine continued for the next two years, he said.
Weissmuller told his parents when he went home to Glenview, but they didn’t believe him.
“My parents thought I was just trying to leave the school,” he said.
Weissmuller ran away from St. John’s in October 1972 and eventually withdrew.
He didn’t see Murphy again until he and his wife attended a St. John’s reunion in the mid-1980s. He and Murphy exchanged small talk.
“I didn’t hit him, but I told my wife I wanted to,” he said. “Murphy acted nervous. He looked like he didn’t want to talk about what happened between us. There were too many people around for that. I didn’t want anyone else to know.”
But other people apparently did know abuse was suspected.
Between 1955 and 1958, several St. John’s students brought complaints of abuse to Father David Walsh, who was stationed in Chicago as chaplain of the deaf, according to a letter written by Walsh in 1997 and obtained by Weissmuller’s attorneys from church files.
Walsh wrote that he had reported their allegations to then-Archbishop of Milwaukee Albert Meyer. “Later he informed me that Father Murphy had at first denied the charges but two weeks later admitted them,” Walsh wrote. “He was sent to some retreat house in northern Wisconsin and told to return to St. John’s to [undo] the harm he had done.”
Citing health reasons, Murphy resigned from the school in 1974 and moved to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin.
Julie Wolf, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said Murphy was barred from ministry in Milwaukee at that time. Murphy died in 1998.
“This was a heinous case,” she said. “It’s important for us never to forget what took place . . . and always keep in mind the children who were victimized.”