MILWAUKEE – The cardinal of the Archdiocese of New York, in his former job, warned the future Pope Benedict XVI that “the potential for true scandal is very real” over sex abuse claims, and he developed a plan to pay some abusers to leave the priesthood, newly released documents say.
Former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan — now president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the nation’s most prominent Roman Catholic official — was in the spotlight Monday as the Milwaukee archdiocese released the documents in a deal reached in bankruptcy court with clergy sex abuse victims suing it for fraud.
Victims say the archdiocese transferred problem priests to new churches without warning parishioners and covered up priests’ crimes for decades.
The documents provide new details on Dolan’s plan to pay some abusers to leave the priesthood and move $57 million into a trust for “improved protection” as the Milwaukee archdiocese prepared to file for bankruptcy amid dozens of abuse claims. A Vatican office approved the request to move the money.
Victims’ attorneys have accused Dolan of trying to hide the $57 million from victims. In a statement released Monday, Dolan called any such suggestion an “old and discredited” attack.
In his letter to the Vatican, Dolan wrote, “By transferring these assets to the Trust, I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”
Dolan has not been accused of transferring problem priests. He sought to push problem priests out of the priesthood after people began coming forward with abuse claims in the early 2000s.
He wrote to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, in July 2003 asking to dismiss Daniel Budzynski. Abuse allegations against Budzynski stretched back to the 1970s, and Dolan told Ratzinger that “as victims organize and become more public, the potential for true scandal is very real.”
The Vatican removed Budzynski from the priesthood in 2004.
At least three priests accused of sexual abuse received payments when they left the priesthood before Dolan’s arrival, according to the documents. Six more left under Dolan, accepting the archdiocese’s offer of $10,000 when they voluntarily agreed to leave and another $10,000 when Vatican officials announced their decision about the priest’s future.
As of June 30, 2012, the archdiocese had spent nearly $30.5 million on litigation, therapy and assistance for victims and other costs related to clergy sex abuse, according to its annual statement. It faces sex abuse claims from about 570 people in bankruptcy court, although some involve lay people or priests assigned to religious orders, not the archdiocese.
Similar files made public by other Roman Catholic dioceses and religious orders have detailed how leaders tried to protect the church by shielding priests and not reporting child sex abuse to authorities. The coverup extended to the top of the Catholic hierarchy.
Correspondence obtained by The Associated Press in 2010 showed Ratzinger had resisted pleas in the 1980s to defrock a California priest with a record of molesting children. He led the Vatican office responsible for disciplining abusive priests before his election as pope.
Associated Press writer M.L. Johnson contributed.