Pope accused of failing to act on sex abuse case Pope Benedict XVI has been accused of failing to act on complaints from two archbishops in the US about a priest who allegedly abused 200 deaf boys. As a cardinal heading the Vatican office that dealt with sex abuse cases, the future pontiff allegedly failed to respond to letters about the case. US media reports say a church trial of the priest, Lawrence Murphy, was halted when he pleaded ill health. The Vatican said US civil authorities had investigated and dropped the case. The Holy See has been haunted for months by sex abuse cover-up allegations in Europe, including Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, as well as the pope's native Germany. For more than 20 years before he was made Pope, Joseph Ratzinger led the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith - the Vatican office with responsibility, among other issues, for the Church's response to child abuse cases. Documents suggest that in 1996, the then Cardinal Ratzinger twice failed to respond to letters sent to him personally, reported the New York Times, which broke the story. They concerned the Rev Lawrence Murphy, who worked at a Wisconsin school for deaf children from the 1950s. Two archbishops wrote letters to the Vatican office led by Cardinal Ratzinger calling for disciplinary proceedings against Fr Murphy, but the Vatican halted the process, according to the documents. Fr Lawrence Murphy died in 1998 with no official blemish on his record Lawsuits have been filed on behalf of five men alleging the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in Wisconsin did not take sufficient action against the priest. At a news conference on Thursday in Milwaukee, one of the victims, Arthur Budzinski, said Fr Murphy had begun to assault him when he was 12. Neither the clerical authorities, nor the police had intervened when he reported it, the 61-year-old said. Mr Budzinski was asked through a sign language interpreter what he wanted to see happen now. "That they step up and take responsibility and stop with these vacant apologies and start 'fessing up to this," the interpreter said. "Ratzinger can have all of the colonels and lieutenants they want fall on the sword for him, but eventually he has to 'fess up." Meanwhile, members of a group of clerical abuse victims who denounced Benedict's handling of the case in a news conference outside the Vatican were briefly detained by Italian police for not having a permit. The priest allegedly assaulted them while hearing their confessions, in his office, his car, at his mother's house and in their dormitory beds. Fr Murphy was quietly moved to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin in 1974, where he spent his last 24 years working freely with children in parishes and schools, according to one lawsuit. Fr Murphy died in 1998, with - in the Church's view - no official blemish on his record. The Pope's official spokesman, Federico Lombardi, called it a "tragic case", but said there was no provision in Church law for automatic punishment. Protecting reputation He also pointed out the Vatican had become involved only in 1996, after US civil authorities had dropped the case. "During the mid-1970s, some of Fr Murphy's victims reported his abuse to civil authorities," the Rev Lombardi said in a statement. "The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith was not informed of the matter until some 20 years later." The Milwaukee diocese was asked to take action by "restricting Father Murphy's public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts", the Rev Lombardi added. Fr Lombardi also said that Fr Murphy's poor health and a lack of more recent allegations had been factors in the decision not to defrock him. But the Vatican's decision not to carry out its own investigation is the question that brings the now Pope's own involvement centre stage, says BBC religious affairs correspondent Christopher Landau. Victims of sexual abuse by priests have long argued that the Church has been more interested in protecting its reputation and helping its priests than seeking justice for victims, our correspondent adds. Last week the Pope issued an unprecedented letter to Ireland addressing the 16 years of clerical cover-up scandals. He has yet to comment on his handling of a child sex abuse case involving a German priest, which developed while Benedict was overseeing the Munich archdiocese. The Rev Peter Hullermann had been accused of abusing boys in the 1970s when the now Pope approved his 1980 transfer to Munich to receive psychological treatment for paedophilia. Hullermann was convicted in 1986 of abusing a youth, but stayed within the Church, serving as a village priest until 2008.