Update: Since writing this post, I have had an opportunity to do a bit more research, heard Father Brundage's comments on Charlie Sykes show and have exchanged e-mails with Father Brundage. I should add the following: Abatement is not equivalent to dismissal and it was unclear in the few days before draft of the letter and Father Murphy's death that, if the matter had been abated, it would not have become active again. (An abated action remains pending.) As a practical matter, nothing was going to happen soon since the situation in August of 1998 was that Father Murphy was too ill for the matter to move forward. Second, whether Father Brundage would or would not have been a hero in this case, he literally has been a hero in other matters of child abuse - to the point of risking his life.
In the first bit of new reporting by the Journal Sentinel,Anyssa Johnson now writes that Father Thomas Brundage actually provided Archbishop Rembert Weakland with a draft of the letter sent several days before Father Murphy's death announcing that the case against him had been abated.
If this is accurate, then it reflects poorly on Father Brundage who said that he would never have agreed to abate the proceedings unless Pope John Paul II ordered him to do so. Not because he did it. As Dad29 points out, he worked for Weakland and had undertaken a vow of obedience.
I am sure that he simply did not recall that he drafted the letter that he now claims not to have seen. But his claim that "he would have" objected to the abatement is simply not true. That may, in one sense, be understandable. Priests don't normally go over the head of their Bishops. It is also true that the matter had not been abated at the time of Father Murphy's death but it apparently was going to be. Perhaps Father Brundage would have objected. It is certainly possible that he would have written a draft of a potential response at the direction of his boss, but objected if he learned that this was actually what the Archbishop decided to do. But, just as it was inappropriate for Archbishop Weakland to attempt to blame his own failures on the Vatican, it was inappropriate for Father Brundage to suggest that he would have been the hero that he was apparently not.
But that does not add a single bit of support to the story line, i.e., idea that the final failure - after many earlier failures - to deal adequately with Father Murphy can somehow be blamed on the Pope. We already knew that Archbishop Weakland, after allowing the case to continue for several months following the meeting in Rome, had decided to end it.
We still have the same story that the documents tell. The Milwaukee archdiocese failed spectacularly in the Murphy case and informed the Vatican only years later - perhaps to avoid bad publicity. The Vatican did suggest alternatives to a criminal trial but that is not the scandal it seems to be because of the difficulty of trying decades old allegations against a someone at death's door. (Indeed, Father Brundage had been unable to depose Murphy due to his poor health.) In any event, the the decision was with the local Bishop - Bishop Fliss had already declined to further consider pastoral alternatives after an inquiry from Archbishop Bertone and Archbishop Weakland himself let the proceeding continue for months after the meeting in Rome. Even the alternative suggested by Archbishop Bertone (declaring Murphy to be unfit for ministry) was based upon Murphy displaying true remorse - something that Brundage says - and the documents indicate - never happened.
Now, in fairness to Weakland, continuing the trial was probably largely symbolic at that point. Murphy's death was imminent. His health did not seem to permit his participation in the case. The real scandal here is the failure of Archbishops Meyer, Cousins and Weakland to act sooner. By the time that the trial was commenced, there was little chance that it ever could have been completed so that Father Murphy would be defrocked before his death.
But symbols matter and Archbishop Weakland made the wrong call - in this and so many other cases.
Father Brundage's failure of memory does, perhaps, contribute to another story line. It will cause more people to believe, as one commenter on this blog says, that "you can't believe anything they say." That is tragic. The story broke on Good Friday. Tomorrow is Easter.