Timothy Murray, a nonpracticing Catholic priest, was sentenced today to 15 years and 8 months in federal prison for possession and distribution of child pornography.
In 2004, Murray was pastor of St. Edith Catholic Church in Livonia, Michigan when reports surfaced that he had abused a 13-year-old boy at another parish where he had served in the mid-1980s. The Archdiocese of Detroit immediately removed him from ministry, although at the time, Michigan’s statute of limitations meant that Murray could not be prosecuted for the case–even though he admitted he was guilty. Since that time, he has been prohibited by the Archdiocese from dressing, working or identifying himself as a priest. Further, he was required to report to a monitor any activities that could put him in contact with a minor.
Murray had another brush with the law in 2012, when federal investigators discovered a large amount of child pornography on his computer, including many images and more than 600 videos. In July, he pleaded guilty to one count each of possession and distribution of child pornography.
Recently, archdiocesan officials learned from an article in the Detroit Free Press that although Murray is not permitted any contact with youth he has, in fact, become involved in activities at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills, serving as a co-director of church plays and as an occasional “worship leader.” The Archdiocese sent a letter to the judge, informing her of Murray’s violation of the terms of his sentencing.
Although Murray was removed from public ministry years ago, he remained a priest. Cardinal Adam Maida, now retired, removed him from ministry but did not pursue laicization. This week, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron confirmed that following this latest infraction, he will petition the Vatican to laicize Murray, removing him permanently from the priesthood.
In the sentencing hearing, U.S. Assistant Attorney Kevin Mulcahy called for a sentence of 22 years, reminding the court that Murray had already evaded punishment for the abuse of the 13-year-old boy in the mid-’80s. Murray’s own attorney, Stephen Rabaut, called for a much lighter sentence of five years, noting that Murray has undergone extensive therapy within the past year.
In announcing her verdict, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said to Murray, “You should not be in contact with minors. The sentence that this court will impose will make sure that doesn’t happen…. This will make you close to 80 years old” when the sentence is up, and “remove you from society.”
Murray apologized for his actions and insisted he would never download pornography again. He blamed the Church’s requirement of priestly celibacy for his past behavior, and claimed that he didn’t know viewing child porn in his home was illegal.
The judge, though, was having none of it. “This court is very hard-pressed to believe you,” she said, “when you say you didn’t know it was a felony.” Considering his participation in the activities at Hope Lutheran, Judge Roberts added that the public needs to be protected from him.
Murray remains free on bond, pending notice of a date when he should report to begin his prison sentence.