Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Setting the record straight in the case of abusive Milwaukee priest Father Lawrence Murphy
Then-presiding judge for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee gives first-person account of church trial
For CatholicAnchor.org

To provide context to this article, I was the Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1995-2003. During those years, I presided over four canonical criminal cases, one of which involved Father Lawrence Murphy. Two of the four men died during the process. God alone will judge these men.

To put some parameters on the following remarks, I am writing this article with the express knowledge and consent of Archbishop Roger Schwietz, OMI, the Archbishop of Anchorage, where I currently serve. Archbishop Schwietz is also the publisher of the Catholic Anchor newspaper.

I will limit my comments, because of judicial oaths I have taken as a canon lawyer and as an ecclesiastical judge. However, since my name and comments in the matter of the Father Murphy case have been liberally and often inaccurately quoted in the New York Times and in more than 100 other newspapers and on-line periodicals, I feel a freedom to tell part of the story of Father Murphy’s trial from ground zero.

As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing out of a sense of duty to the truth.

The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself.

My intent in the following paragraphs is to accomplish the following:

To tell the back-story of what actually happened in the Father Murphy case on the local level;

To outline the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New York Times and other media outlets;

To assert that Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope or bishop in history to rid the Catholic Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and provide for those who have been injured;

To set the record straight with regards to the efforts made by the church to heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual misconduct. The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history.

Before proceeding, it is important to point out the scourge that child sexual abuse has been — not only for the church but for society as well. Few actions can distort a child’s life more than sexual abuse. It is a form of emotional and spiritual homicide and it starts a trajectory toward a skewed sense of sexuality. When committed by a person in authority, it creates a distrust of almost anyone, anywhere.

As a volunteer prison chaplain in Alaska, I have found a corollary between those who have been incarcerated for child sexual abuse and the priests who have committed such grievous actions. They tend to be very smart and manipulative. They tend to be well liked and charming. They tend to have one aim in life — to satisfy their hunger. Most are highly narcissistic and do not see the harm that they have caused. They view the children they have abused not as people but as objects. They rarely show remorse and moreover, sometimes portray themselves as the victims. They are, in short, dangerous people and should never be trusted again. Most will recommit their crimes if given a chance.

As for the numerous reports about the case of Father Murphy, the back-story has not been reported as of yet.

In 1996, I was introduced to the story of Father Murphy, formerly the principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. It had been common knowledge for decades that during Father Murphy’s tenure at the school (1950-1974) there had been a scandal at St. John’s involving him and some deaf children. The details, however, were sketchy at best.

Courageous advocacy on behalf of the victims (and often their wives), led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to revisit the matter in 1996. In internal discussions of the curia for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, it became obvious that we needed to take strong and swift action with regard to the wrongs of several decades ago. With the consent of then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, we began an investigation into the allegations of child sexual abuse as well as the violation of the crime of solicitation within the confessional by Father Murphy.

We proceeded to start a trial against Father Murphy. I was the presiding judge in this matter and informed Father Murphy that criminal charges were going to be levied against him with regard to child sexual abuse and solicitation in the confessional.

In my interactions with Father Murphy, I got the impression I was dealing with a man who simply did not get it. He was defensive and threatening.

Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.

I also met with a community board of deaf Catholics. They insisted that Father Murphy should be removed from the priesthood and highly important to them was their request that he be buried not as a priest but as a layperson. I indicated that a judge, I could not guarantee the first request and could only make a recommendation to the latter request.

In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition at the chancery in Milwaukee. I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could travel not more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home.

With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

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. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.

Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.

Third, the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court. When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Fourth, Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.

Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children. There have been very few cases of recent sexual abuse of children by clergy during the last decade or more.

Catholic dioceses all across the country have taken extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. As one example, which is by no means unique, is in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently work. Here, virtually every public bathroom in parishes has a sign asking if a person has been abuse by anyone in the church. A phone number is given to report the abuse and almost all church workers in the archdiocese are required to take yearly formation sessions in safe environment classes. I am not sure what more the church can do.

To conclude, the events during the 1960’s and 1970’s of the sexual abuse of minors and solicitation in the confessional by Father Lawrence Murphy are unmitigated and gruesome crimes. On behalf of the church, I am deeply sorry and ashamed for the wrongs that have been done by my brother priests but realize my sorrow is probably of little importance 40 years after the fact. The only thing that we can do at this time is to learn the truth, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever is humanly possible to heal the wounds. The rest, I am grateful, is in God’s hands.

Father Thomas T. Brundage, JCL

Editor’s note: Father Brundage can be contacted at brundaget@archmil.org or by phone at (907) 745-3229 X 11.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Keeping the record straight on Benedict and the crisis
By John L Allen Jr

Intense scrutiny is being devoted these days to Pope Benedict XVI's history on the sex abuse crisis. Revelations from Germany have put his five years as a diocesan bishop under a spotlight, and a piece on Thursday in The New York Times, on the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy of Milwaukee, also called into question his Vatican years as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Despite complaints in some quarters that all this is about wounding the pope and/or the church, raising these questions is entirely legitimate. Anyone involved in church leadership at the most senior levels for as long as Benedict XVI inevitably bears some responsibility for the present mess. My newspaper, the National Catholic Reporter, today called editorially for full disclosure [1] about the pope's record, and it now seems abundantly clear that only such transparency can resolve the hard questions facing Benedict.

Yet as always, the first casualty of any crisis is perspective. There are at least three aspects of Benedict's record on the sexual abuse crisis which are being misconstrued, or at least sloppily characterized, in today's discussion. Bringing clarity to these points is not a matter of excusing the pope, but rather of trying to understand accurately how we got where we are.

The following, therefore, are three footnotes to understanding Benedict's record on the sexual abuse crisis.

1. Not the 'Point Man'
First, some media reports have suggested that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger presided over the Vatican office with responsibility for the sex abuse crisis for almost a quarter-century, from 1981 until his election to the papacy in April 2005, and therefore that he's responsible for whatever the Vatican did or didn't do during that entire stretch of time. That's not correct.
In truth, Ratzinger did not have any direct responsibility for managing the overall Vatican response to the crisis until 2001, four years before he became pope.

Bishops were not required to send cases of priests accused of sexual abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith until 2001, when they were directed to do so by Pope John Paul II's motu proprio titled Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela. Prior to that, most cases involving sex abuse never got to Rome. In the rare instance when a bishop wanted to laicize an abuser priest against his will, the canonical process involved would be handled by one of the Vatican courts, not by Ratzinger's office.

Prior to 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith got involved only in the exceedingly rare instances when the sex abuse occurred in the context of the confessional, since a canonical tribunal within the congregation handled cases involving abuse of the sacrament of penance. That, for example, is how the case of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, ended up in the congregation, and it's also why officials in the Milwaukee archdiocese directed the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy there.

One certainly can question how Ratzinger's office handled those exceptional cases, and the record seems painfully slow and ambivalent in comparison with how similar accusations would be dealt with today. Moreover, Ratzinger was a senior Vatican official from 1981 forward, and therefore he shares in the corporate failure in Rome to appreciate the magnitude of the crisis until terribly late in the game.

To suggest, however, that Ratzinger was the Vatican's "point man" on sex abuse for almost twenty-five years, and to fault him for the mishandling of every case that arose between 1981 and 2001, is misleading. Prior to 2001, Ratzinger had nothing personally to do with the vast majority of sex abuse cases, even the small percentage which wound up in Rome.

2. The 2001 letter
In some reporting and commentary, a May 2001 letter from Ratzinger to the bishops of the world, titled De delictis gravioribus, is being touted as a "smoking gun" proving that Ratzinger attempted to thwart reporting priestly sex abuse to the police or other civil authorities by ordering the bishops to keep it secret.

That letter indicates that certain grave crimes, including the sexual abuse of a minor, are to be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and that they are "subject to the pontifical secret." The Vatican insists, however, that this secrecy applied only to the church's internal disciplinary procedures, and was not intended to prevent anyone from also reporting these cases to the police or other civil authorities. Technically they're correct, since nowhere in the 2001 letter is there any prohibition on reporting sex abuse to police or civil prosecutors.
In reality, few bishops needed a legal edict from Rome ordering them not to talk publicly about sexual abuse. That was simply the culture of the church at the time, which makes the hunt for a "smoking gun" something of a red herring right out of the gate. Fixing a culture -- one in which the Vatican, to be sure, was as complicit as anyone else, but one which was widespread and deeply rooted well beyond Rome -- is never as simple as abrogating one law and issuing another.

That aside, here's the key point about Ratzinger's 2001 letter: Far from being seen as part of the problem, at the time it was widely hailed as a watershed moment towards a solution. It marked recognition in Rome, really for the first time, of how serious the problem of sex abuse really is, and it committed the Vatican to getting directly involved. Prior to that 2001 motu proprio and Ratzinger's letter, it wasn't clear that anyone in Rome acknowledged responsibility for managing the crisis; from that moment forward, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would play the lead role.

Beginning in 2001, Ratzinger was forced to review all the files on every priest credibly accused of sexual abuse anywhere in the world, giving him a sense of the contours of the problem that virtually no one else in the Catholic church can claim. In a recent article, I outlined the "conversion experience" Ratzinger and his staff went through after 2001. Beforehand, he came off as just another Roman cardinal in denial; after his experience of reviewing the files, he began to talk openly about the "filth" in the church, and his staff became far more energetic about prosecuting abusers.

For those who have followed the church's response to the crisis, Ratzinger's 2001 letter is therefore seen as a long overdue assumption of responsibility by the Vatican, and the beginning of a far more aggressive response. Whether that response is sufficient is, of course, a matter for fair debate, but to construe Ratzinger's 2001 letter as no more than the last gasp of old attempts at denial and cover-up misreads the record.

3. Canonical Trials
Ratzinger's top deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on sex abuse cases, Maltese Monsignor Charles Scicluna, recently gave an interview to an Italian Catholic paper in which he said that of the more than 3,000 cases eventually referred to Rome, only 20 percent were subjected to a full canonical trial. In some reporting, including the Thursday piece in The New York Times, this figure has been cited as evidence of Vatican "inaction."

Once again, however, those who have followed the story closely have almost exactly the opposite impression.

Back in June 2002, when the American bishops first proposed a set of new canonical norms to Rome, the heart of which was the "one strike and you're out" policy, they initially wanted to avoid canonical trials altogether. Instead, they wanted to rely on a bishop's administrative power to permanently remove a priest from ministry. That's because their experience of Roman tribunals over the years was that they were often slow, cumbersome, and the outcome was rarely certain.

Most famously, bishops and experts would point to the case of Fr. Anthony Cipolla in Pittsburgh, during the time that Donald Wuerl, now the Archbishop of Washington, was the local bishop. Wuerl had removed Cipolla from ministry in 1988 following allegations of sexual abuse. Cipolla appealed to Rome, where the Apostolic Signatura, in effect the Vatican's supreme court, ordered him reinstated. Wuerl then took the case to Rome himself, and eventually prevailed. The experience left many American bishops, however, with the impression that lengthy canonical trials were not the way to handle these cases.

When the new American norms reached Rome, they ran into opposition precisely on the grounds that everyone deserves their day in court -- another instance, in the eyes of critics, of the Vatican being more concerned about the rights of abuser priests than victims. A special commission of American bishops and senior Vatican officials brokered a compromise, in which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would sort through the cases one-by-one and decide which ones would be sent back for full trials.

The fear at the time was that the congregation would insist on trials in almost every case, thereby dragging out the administration of justice, and closure for the victims, almost indefinitely. In the end, however, only 20 percent were sent back for trials, while for the bulk of the cases, 60 percent, bishops were authorized to take immediate administrative action, because the proof was held to be overwhelming.

The fact that only 20 percent of the cases were subjected to full canonical trial has been hailed as a belated grasp in Rome of the need for swift and sure justice, and a victory for the more aggressive American approach to the crisis. It should be noted, too, that bypassing trials has been roundly criticized by some canon lawyers and Vatican officials as a betrayal of the due process safeguards in church law.

Hence to describe that 20 percent figure as a sign of "inaction" cannot help but seem, to anyone who's been paying attention, rather ironic. In truth, handling 60 percent of the cases through the stroke of a bishop's pen has, up to now, more often been cited as evidence of exaggerated and draconian action by Ratzinger and his deputies.

Obviously, none of this is to suggest that Benedict's handling of the crisis -- in Munich, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or as pope -- is somehow exemplary. An accounting needs to be offered if this pope, and the church he leads, hopes to move forward. For that analysis to be constructive, however, as opposed to fueling polarization and confusion, it's important to keep the record straight.

[John Allen is NCR senior correspondent. His e-mail address is jallen@ncronline.org.]

Copyright © The National Catholic Reporter

Monday, March 15, 2010

Media Failed to Blame Pope in Sexual Abuse Cases
Vatican Aide Stresses Pontiff's Work Against Crime

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The attempts of various media sources, especially in Germany, to implicate Benedict XVI in cases of sexual abuse by clergy, have failed, said the Vatican spokesman.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, affirmed this in a communiqué that was broadcast by Vatican Radio.

"It is obvious," he said, "that in recent days there are people who have tried -- with a certain tenacity in Regensburg and Munich -- to find ways to personally involve the Holy Father in the matters relating to the abuses."

"For every objective observer it is evident that these efforts have failed," Father Lombardi pointed out.

In particular, he noted, some have tried to blame Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of having reassigned to ministry a priest who was guilty of sexual abuse of minors, while the cardinal was archbishop of Munich, Germany, in 1980.

The priest referred to the "ample and detailed press release" publicized by the Archdiocese of Munich, in which it demonstrated that the Pontiff had no responsibility in this case.

Cardinal Ratzinger had done nothing more than welcome this presbyter to his diocese in order that the man could undergo psychotherapeutic treatment, but the prelate did not approve the priest's pastoral reintegration.

The spokesman explained that Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, worked in that capacity to establish and apply rigid and rigorous norms that the Catholic Church has used in its response to the abuse cases it has discovered in recent years.

"His line has always been one of rigor and consistency in confronting even the most difficult situations," Father Lombardi said of Benedict XVI.

To illustrate this point, the priest referred to an "important and lengthy interview" by Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who handles cases brought against abusive priests for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

This interview, published Saturday by Avvenire, explained in a detailed manner the significance of the canonical norms specifically established by the Church in recent years in order to "judge the very grave crime of sexual abuse of minors by ecclesiastics."

"It becomes absolutely clear that such norms do not intend and have not favored any cover-up of these crimes but, on the contrary, have brought about an intense activity to handle, judge and punish these crimes adequately in the framework of the ecclesiastical order," Father Lombardi affirmed.

For this reason, he said, "despite the tempest, the Church clearly sees the path to follow, under the certain and rigorous leadership of the Holy Father."

The priest concluded, "As we have already observed, we hope that in the end this travail can be a help to society as a whole to take ever better care of the protection and formation of children and youth."

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Remarkable Story

Wartime Pope Has a Huge Fan: A Jewish Knight

LONG BEACH, N.Y. — At home here on Long Island, he is Gary L. Krupp, medical equipment dealer, now retired after a career of ups and downs. He shares one car and a small house in a no-frills neighborhood with his wife, Meredith, and wryly describes himself as “an average schlemiel, just a Jewish kid from Queens.”

At the Vatican, he is known as Commendatore Gary Krupp, Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great. For short, the Swiss Guard and cardinals address him as “Your Excellency.”

It is a compelling tale in itself: how Mr. Krupp became only the seventh Jewish papal knight in history, dubbed by Pope John Paul II in 2000 for persuading American manufacturers to donate $12 million worth of high-tech medical equipment to an Italian hospital.

But the more curious and complicated story is the transformation Mr. Krupp has undergone since. With no previous training or special interest in history, he has emerged as the Vatican’s most outspoken Jewish ally in a heated debate at the crux of tensions between Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders and historians: whether Pope Pius XII, the pontiff during World War II, did as much as he could have to save Jews from the Holocaust.

Mr. Krupp, 62, has raised enough money through the Pave the Way Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2002, to travel the globe, hire researchers to scour historic documents, sponsor a three-day symposium in Rome and publish four editions of a glossy, illustrated volume of evidence supporting his view that Pius XII spared no effort to save the lives of persecuted Jews.

He has pressed his case in a recent op-ed article for The New York Post, and in interviews with conservative Catholic television programs and Web sites, which have cited him as an expert on Pius.

And in a special audience at the papal summer residence in September 2008, Pope Benedict XVI thanked Mr. Krupp for bringing attention to “what Pius XII achieved for the Jews.”

Historians and religious leaders around the world have taken increasing notice of Mr. Krupp’s work — some with alarm, some with pleasure — because his advocacy has coincided with efforts within the Vatican to promote the canonization of Pius. Pope Benedict nudged that process forward in December by affirming Pius’s “heroic virtues” and pronouncing him “venerable,” a step on the path toward sainthood.

The controversy over Pius’s wartime conduct had stalled his elevation for so many years that Pope Benedict’s action shocked scholars on both sides of the debate. And while agreeing on little else, some in both camps credit Mr. Krupp for breaking the logjam.

“I wrote 10 books about Pius XII, but in all these years I never knew how to shake things up for the cause like this wonderful man, Mr. Krupp,” said Sister Margherita Marchione, a professor emerita at Fairleigh Dickinson University who is considered the foremost defender of Pius outside the Vatican.

Deborah Dwork, a professor of Holocaust history at Clark University, put it another way: “Pope Benedict would not have had the chutzpah to go forward with the veneration process if not for this P.R. work Gary Krupp does.”

In a dispute decades long, the church has maintained that Pius XII supported efforts throughout the war to hide Jews or help them escape, but worked behind the scenes to avoid retaliation from Nazi and Italian Fascist authorities.

Holocaust scholars, who consider Pius, with his worldwide network of diplomats and clergy, to be among the first world leaders to have grasped the scope of the Jewish persecution, have asked why he did not condemn it publicly. But most consider that and other questions unanswerable until the Vatican opens the complete archives of Pius’s papacy. Although a selection of those papers has been published, the Vatican has kept most off limits to outside researchers.

How Mr. Krupp happened onto this muddy battlefield is hard to explain, even for Mr. Krupp, a husky man who sometimes seems almost possessed, bounding up and down the stairs of his split-level house to retrieve copies of documents or books to make his points.

“Believe me, I never dreamed I would be defending a man who, when I was growing up, we believed he was a Nazi sympathizer,” he said.

He says he takes his faith seriously, though he was never very active in his synagogue, or a member of Jewish organizations. His rabbi, Barry Dov Schwartz of Temple B’Nai Sholom in Rockville Centre, called him “a bit of a stubborn guy, whom I happen to be very fond of,” but declined to comment on Mr. Krupp’s efforts on behalf of popes.

By Mr. Krupp’s account, that work evolved “organically.” A friend, a Long Island priest, got him involved with the Italian hospital in need of equipment.

Being knighted thrust Mr. Krupp into the ranks of some of the world’s richest and most prominent people, living and dead — Bob Hope and Rupert Murdoch included — who received the knighthood of St. Gregory the Great for serving the church in some way. Unlike the vast majority of them, however, Mr. Krupp said he saw his elevation as an opportunity to become a conduit between the Catholic Church and the world. In 2005, he brokered an agreement with the Vatican Library to lend a rare set of manuscripts by the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides to the Israel Museum. And gradually he decided he liked promoting interreligious understanding more than he liked selling medical equipment.

His Pave the Way Foundation became a full-time occupation in 2005, around the time a friend at the Vatican suggested that he might help clear up misunderstandings between Catholics and Jews about Pius. Mr. Krupp began collecting and underwriting research.

“Did you know Pius XII saved more than 860,000 Jews from the death camps? I mean, I never knew that before. It’s character assassination — a shanda — that so many Jews say he was an anti-Semite,” said Mr. Krupp, using a Yiddish word for disgrace.

The assessment of Mr. Krupp’s work among many scholars and leaders of long-established Jewish organizations has been equally harsh.

Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, associate director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, called Mr. Krupp’s mission “a campaign of misinformation.”

Professor Dwork said Mr. Krupp’s research was “amateurish, worse than amateurish — risible.” More disturbing, she said, it seems to have emboldened some in the Vatican to push harder for Pius XII’s canonization.

He may be well-meaning, but his lack of experience in international affairs and historical research makes Mr. Krupp highly vulnerable to being manipulated by factions inside the Vatican, she said.

Several historians said the 860,000 figure that Mr. Krupp cited appeared frequently in biographies of Pius XII, but had never been documented.

The Rev. John T. Pawlikowski, a Catholic priest who is a founding member of the board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a professor of social ethics at the University of Chicago, said the Vatican was “discrediting itself by associating itself with this kind of questionable scholarship.”

Mr. Krupp has heard it all. In 2008, several historians called to ask him to cancel his three-day conference in Rome, which ultimately drew many Vatican-friendly scholars but few with independent credentials.

One caller, Paul O’Shea, who has written extensively about Pius XII, tried to warn Mr. Krupp that proponents of canonization might be trying to use him. He urged Mr. Krupp to wait for the Vatican to open its files, and for scholars to complete their work, before reaching conclusions.
Mr. Krupp thanked him for his advice and ignored it.

“Listen to me: Pius XII was the greatest hero of World War II,” Mr. Krupp said recently. “He saved more Jews than Roosevelt, Churchill and all the rest of them combined. We should not let him be an issue between Catholics and Jews.”

He added: “And I predict this: Historians are never going to solve this whole problem. There will always be questions.”

In the debate over Gary Krupp, too, there will always be questions. Why is he doing this? How has he marshaled deep-pocketed support for his foundation, which has an annual budget of about $500,000 and pays him and his wife a combined $140,000 a year? (Its board includes New York entrepreneurs and Wall Street managers, most of them Jewish.)

And what is it like to start your day in a house where your ceiling needs painting, and end your day, jet-lagged, in a house with ceilings by Michelangelo?

Meredith Krupp contemplated that question recently and answered with a koan-like reference to the white feather that appears mysteriously in the opening and closing frames of the movie “Forrest Gump.”

“It’s just like that feather,” she said. “It just goes and goes where it goes.”