By The NY Times Editorial Board
July 3, 2013
Tragic as the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church has been, it is shocking to discover that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while archbishop of Milwaukee, moved $57 million off the archdiocesan books into a cemetery trust fund six years ago in order to protect the money from damage suits by victims of abuse by priests.
Cardinal Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, has denied shielding the funds as an “old and discredited” allegation and “malarkey.” But newly released court documents make it clear that he sought and received fast approval from the Vatican to transfer the money just as the Wisconsin Supreme Court was about to open the door to damage suits by victims raped and abused as children by Roman Catholic clergy.
“I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability,” Cardinal Dolan wrote rather cynically in his 2007 letter to the Vatican. The letter was released by the Milwaukee Archdiocese as part of a bankruptcy court fight with lawyers in 575 cases of damage claims. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011. The law bars a debtor from transferring funds in a way that protects one class of creditors over another.
The release of about 6,000 pages of documents provided a grim backstage look at the scandal, graphically detailing the patterns of serial abuse by dozens of priests who were systematically rotated to new assignments as church officials kept criminal behavior secret from civil authority.
It is disturbing that the current Milwaukee leader, Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said last week that the church underwent an “arc of understanding” across time to come to grips with the scandal — as if the statutory rapes of children were not always a glaring crime in the eyes of society as well as the church itself.
Cardinal Dolan was not a Milwaukee prelate during most of the abuse cases, but he faced a costly aftermath of troubles and warned the Vatican in 2003: “As victims organize and become more public, the potential for true scandal is very real.” The documents showed how the Vatican slowly took years to allow dioceses to defrock embarrassing priests. Yet the same bureaucracy approved Cardinal Dolan’s $57 million transfer just days after the Wisconsin court allowed victims’ damage suits.