3 Feb 2011

Catholic diocese bankruptcies protect assets from abuse survivors but provide no relief for moral bankruptcy of church leaders

The Cap Times - Wisconsin January 15, 2011

No relief for Catholic Church’s moral bankruptcy

by Joel McNally | Opinion

An unforgettable trip to Florence, Italy, about a decade ago gave me my first real appreciation for the almost incomprehensible wealth of the Roman Catholic Church. After visiting the domed Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, completed in 1436, I could only compare it to the most stunning natural site I had ever seen. I wrote the thing was like the Grand Canyon turned upside down.

Such vast cathedrals with their gold-and-jewel-laden altars are really impressive until you stop and think about how primitive the living conditions for the church’s parishioners must have been outside those walls at the time.

That’s the larger context in which Archbishop Jerome Listecki publicly announced the Milwaukee Archdiocese would file for bankruptcy to try to protect assets of the local church from lawsuits brought by childhood victims of sexually predatory priests.

The moral questions about the honesty of the church, from top to bottom, continue to mount.

Listecki should not have been able to keep a straight face when he claimed the reason for filing for bankruptcy was to enable the church to fairly compensate victims. If Listecki had any interest at all in fairly compensating victims, he would not be trying to shield the overwhelming majority of the archdiocese’s $98.4 million in claimed assets from being used to pay those victims.

Or pretending the archdiocese does not own any of the property and assets of its schools and parishes because they are legally incorporated separately. That’s called trying to use a legal loophole.

Listecki also personally lobbied the Legislature to defeat a bill that would have opened a three-year window for all childhood victims to sue. Instead, the church continues to hide behind statutes of limitations to prevent justice for victims who have been reluctant to come forward for years.

Almost as shameful as priests sexually abusing children has been the church’s legal abuse of those children and their families when they file lawsuits seeking compensation. The church’s ruthless tactics included denying access to records, brutally attacking childhood victims personally in depositions, and repeatedly drawing out cases with every legal delaying tactic to run up enormous costs and bankrupt plaintiffs.

Whenever an expensive team of lawyers got a case dismissed on a technicality, the church would sue the victims and their families for all legal expenses.

A large number of church officials were complicit in covering up sexual abuse by priests because they were more concerned about the reputation and the wealth of the church than about the harm to children. Many were directly responsible for horrific abuse themselves when they knowingly shifted priests with a history of pedophilia to new positions giving them access to more children. Although Listecki condemns sexual predators within the church, he’s been far less explicit about church officials who aided and abetted them.

All that said, it is a sham to pretend local church officials were somehow acting on their own all over the world all at the same time.

We wouldn’t let any other morally corrupt, multinational, profit-making corporation -- BP, let’s say -- escape responsibility for crimes befouling us that were so clearly overseen from the top.

The Milwaukee Archdiocese fought to keep secret internal documents showing Pope Benedict himself, in a previous Vatican position overseeing abuse cases, shut down a Wisconsin church trial to defrock a priest who had sexually abused more than 200 boys at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis.

There is nothing unusual about wealthy global corporations trying to protect their riches by what President Richard Nixon’s corrupt Watergate aide H.R. Haldeman called “a modified, limited hang-out.” That means pinning the rap on the lowest level officials possible and limiting the financial damage to scapegoats in the branch offices.

As a result, the Milwaukee archdiocese and its financially struggling parishioners will have to pay the enormous damages resulting from the church’s sex abuse scandal on their own. All those eye-popping riches the Catholic Church has stored up for itself around the world over the centuries are safe. The church hierarchy can relieve the stress from all this legal turmoil by frolicking in their gold like Scrooge McDuck.

All that is required is to maintain the legal fiction that priests, bishops and archbishops were independent operators and were not employees of the worldwide church.

That is certainly news to priests, bishops and archbishops. If the Vatican is no longer responsible for what local churches do, we should plan a big celebration to ordain women priests and allow church officials to marry and enjoy healthy, sexual lives like other human beings.

The biggest difference between the Catholic Church and other wealthy, multinational, profit-making corporations is the product the church markets. That’s supposed to be morality.

Financial bankruptcy is a legal process to protect the church’s accumulated riches. It provides no relief for moral bankruptcy.

Joel McNally of Milwaukee writes a regular column for The Capital Times.

This article was found at:



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Deaf man suing Vatican tells his story in CNN report on Pope's role in protecting pedophiles and covering-up clergy child rape

U.S. lawsuit accuses Pope Benedict and other Vatican officials of negligence for enabling abuse at school for deaf

Court documents show Pope Benedict protected pedophile priest who molested deaf boys, Vatican reacts with claims of media conspiracy

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Australian clergy abuse survivors say they are being re-victimized by compensation process and Catholic hierarchy

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  1. Dolan Sought to Protect Church Assets, Files Show

    By LAURIE GOODSTEIN, New York Times July 1, 2013

    Files released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Monday reveal that in 2007, Cardinal Timothy F. Dolan, then the archbishop there, requested permission from the Vatican to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to protect the assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse who were demanding compensation.

    Cardinal Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, has emphatically denied seeking to shield church funds as the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009. He reiterated in a statement Monday that these were “old and discredited attacks.”

    However, the files contain a 2007 letter to the Vatican in which he explains that by transferring the assets, “I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” The Vatican approved the request in five weeks, the files show.

    The release of more than 6,000 pages of documents on Monday was hailed by victims and their advocates as a vindication and a historic step toward transparency and accountability. They were well aware that the archives would bring unusually intense scrutiny to the country’s most high-profile prelate, Cardinal Dolan, who as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the archbishop of New York has sought to help the church turn the corner on the era of scandal.

    Cardinal Dolan has been regarded by many Catholics as part of the solution. In public appearances, he has expressed personal outrage at the harm done to children, apologized profusely and pledged to help the church and the victims heal.

    But the documents lift the curtain on his role as a workaday church functionary concerned with safeguarding assets, persuading abusive priests to leave voluntarily in exchange for continued stipends and benefits, and complying with Rome’s sluggish canonical procedures for dismissing uncooperative priests who he had long concluded were remorseless and a serious risk to children. In one case, the Vatican took five years to remove a convicted sex offender from the priesthood.

    “As victims organize and become more public, the potential for true scandal is very real,” he wrote in such a request in 2003 to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Vatican office charged with handling abuse cases until he became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

    Victims on Monday called for a federal investigation into the actions of Cardinal Dolan and his predecessors, but the cardinal sought to deflect criticism by saying in a statement Monday that he welcomed the release of the documents.

    The current archbishop of Milwaukee, Jerome E. Listecki, had announced his decision to release the documents in April, one day before a judicial hearing. Lawyers for abuse victims had asked a judge to compel their release.

    Archbishop Listecki released a letter last week warning Catholics in his archdiocese that the documents could shake their faith, and trying to explain the actions of church leaders while offering apologies to victims.

    “Prepare to be shocked,” he wrote. “There are some graphic descriptions about the behavior of some of these priest offenders.”

    The files include documents from the personnel files of 42 clergy offenders with “substantiated” allegations, going back 80 years. (The names and identifying features of victims were redacted.) Also included are the legal depositions of Cardinal Dolan and another former Milwaukee archbishop, Rembert Weakland, and a retired auxiliary bishop, Richard J. Sklba.

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  2. Milwaukee harbored some of the nation’s most notorious priest pedophiles, including the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, whom a church therapist assessed as having molested as many as 200 boys during his two and a half decades teaching and leading St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wis., and Sigfried Widera, who faced 42 counts of child abuse in Wisconsin and California. Father Murphy died in 1998, and Father Widera committed suicide in Mexico in 2003.

    In his letter, Archbishop Listecki said the documents showed that 22 priests were “reassigned to parish work after concerns about their behavior were known to the archdiocese,” and that 8 of those “reoffended after being reassigned.”

    Advocates for abuse victims objected that the archdiocese did not release the files of many others accused of abuse, including priests, deacons, nuns, schoolteachers and choir directors. The files do not include any known priest offenders who were members of religious orders (like the Capuchins or Jesuits) who served in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

    “It’s still less than a complete disclosure, but it’s a giant step in the right direction,” said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for many of the alleged victims. The documents were posted on both his Web site and the archdiocese’s, but they were arranged differently to buttress each argument.

    Cardinal Dolan was deposed about his handling of abuse cases and the assets of the archdiocese in February, just before he left for Rome for the conclave to elect a new pope. The release of the documents is the byproduct of a bitter standoff in bankruptcy court between the Milwaukee Archdiocese and 575 men and women who have filed claims against it alleging that priests or other church employees had sexually abused them.

    The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011, saying it was the best way to compensate the victims and resolve the controversy. It became the eighth Catholic diocese in the United States to do so. Since then, negotiations between the two sides in Milwaukee have broken down: the church has argued that about 400 of the 575 cases are invalid, while lawyers for the victims have accused the church of hiding assets.

    In January, the archdiocese said it had spent about $9 million in legal and other fees in the bankruptcy process and was going broke.

    In 2007, the year Cardinal Dolan asked to transfer the funds, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a decision that in effect lifted an unusual law that had long shielded the church from sexual abuse lawsuits. When he was later accused of trying to shield church funds, Cardinal Dolan said on his blog in New York that it was “malarkey” and “groundless gossip.” Archbishop Listecki and former Auxiliary Bishop Sklba invoked a theme that many other church officials have used in the past to explain their conduct: that their missteps reflected a broader lack of awareness about child sexual abuse in society.

    Archbishop Listecki wrote that he did not want to make excuses, but that church officials had relied on the advice of doctors and therapists who were “seemingly more concerned about ‘Father’ than about the children.” He said the documents would reveal “the progression and evolution of thinking on this topic.”

    However, the Rev. James Connell, a priest in the Milwaukee Archdiocese who helped to form a group called Catholic Whistleblowers, said in an interview that he did not find this claim credible.

    “I was in high school in the 1950s,” he said, “and I learned about statutory rape in high school. An adult having sexual activity with a minor is a crime. We knew about it then, so you can’t claim that social thought changed.”