by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Documents published by The New York Times on July 1 show that Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, now archbishop of New York, conspired with Vatican officials to hide church assets from victims of sexual abuse while he was archbishop of Milwaukee.
The files released by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee show that Dolan requested permission from the Vatican to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund, to hide the money from victims of clergy sexual abuse who were demanding compensation.
Dolan, who was archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009, when he was transferred to the more prestigious post in New York, has denied trying to shield church funds.
He said in a statement released July 1 that the allegations were 'old and discredited attacks.'
However, the documents include a 2007 letter from Dolan 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 documents show.
THE CARDINAL'S TWO FACES
In public appearances, Dolan has expressed outrage and regret over the harm done to children by Catholic priests, and has pledged to help the victims heal.
However, the more than 6,000 pages of documents reveal that the archbishop was primarily concerned with safeguarding the church's assets and getting accused priests to leave his archdiocese voluntarily, by promising to continue their salaries and benefits.
In one letter, he warns Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then in charge of investigating the abuse cases and later Pope Benedict XVI, that the Vatican's sluggish handling of the abuse charges would create a public relations disaster for the church.
'As victims organize and become more public, the potential for true scandal is very real,' Dolan wrote in 2003.
EIGHT DECADES OF ABUSE
The published documents include the personnel files of 42 accused priests, with 'substantiated' allegations of abuse going back 80 years. Also included are legal depositions from Cardinal Dolan as well as another former Milwaukee archbishop, Rembert Weakland, and a retired auxiliary bishop, Richard J. Sklba.
The current archbishop of Milwaukee, Jerome E. Listecki, said in April that he would release the documents, one day before a court hearing at which lawyers for abuse victims were to ask the court to order their release.
Before publishing the files, Listecki sent out a letter 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.'
One priest, Fr. Lawrence Murphy, is believed to have molested as many as 200 boys during more than 20 years leading St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin. Another, Fr. Siegfried Widera, faced 42 counts of child abuse in Wisconsin and California.
In his letter, Listecki acknowledged that 22 priests were 'reassigned to parish work after concerns about their behavior were known to the archdiocese,' and that eight of those 'reoffended after being reassigned.'
'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.
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