May 31st, 2012
12:12 PM ET

Top U.S. archbishop linked to abusive priest payout plan

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - One of the most powerful Catholic Church leaders in America approved payments of $20,000 to get abusive priests to leave the church, abuse victims and the archdiocese in question said Thursday.

Victims feel "considerable dismay" that leaders of the church in Milwaukee "have been apparently engaged in paying off those who betrayed the children of our archdiocese," they said in an open letter to the current head of the church in Milwaukee, Archbishop Jerome Listecki.

But the case could reverberate far beyond the borders of the Midwestern city.

Timothy Dolan, who was archbishop of Milwaukee at the time, is now archbishop of New York, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a cardinal.

Notes from a meeting he attended in Wisconsin in 2003 show a "proposal" to offer $20,000 to "currently unassignable priests."

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Former Catholic priest Patrick Wall, who now helps abuse victims sue the Catholic Church, said that term meant only one thing in his experience.

"Unassignable priests are those clerics whom the bishop cannot place in a parish because he has a serious moral impediment," he said. "In my 20 years' experience, the only impediment the term 'unassignables' referred to was a credible accusation of childhood sexual abuse."

The minutes of the finance council meeting emerged as part of Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy proceedings, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said Wednesday.

Why Cardinal Timothy Dolan matters

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection last year in the face of lawsuits from people who said they had been abused by its priests.

On Thursday, the archdiocese confirmed that it had offered payoffs to abusive priests as "the most expedient and cost-effective way to have offenders laicized or removed from the priesthood."

Having an abuser volunteer to go through the process known as laicization - formally leaving the priesthood - "was faster and less expensive. It made sense to try and move these men out of the priesthood as quickly as possible," the archdiocese said in a statement.

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"Like it or not, the archdiocese is canonically responsible for the financial care of a priest - even a priest who has committed such a horrible crime and sin such as clergy sexual abuse of a minor," the statement said.

Joe Zwilling, a spokesman for Dolan in New York, told CNN on Thursday that he had "no comment at this time," adding: "I don't expect to have a comment later. I was not in Milwaukee. I don't know the background of what happened there."

He denied having seen a New York Times report about the allegations.

Dolan was not scheduled to make public appearances Thursday.

One Catholic church source defended the payment plan on Thursday, saying, “You either pay them to leave and give them money for food and clothes and shelter as they look for a job or you have a drawn out trial that could take years.”

“Wouldn’t that be preferable than to keep them as priests and paying their salaries,” the source, who would agree to speak only anonymously. “And wouldn’t it be better than a trial and to have victims testifying and cross examined?”

CNN Belief Blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi and CNN's Chris Kokenes and Marie Malzberg and Adam Reiss contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity

soundoff (324 Responses)
  1. Bob Lewis

    And these perverse, disgusting criminals have a problem with contraception. Amazing.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  2. Ex-GOP Con

    1) Did the Church pay taxes on those payouts?

    2) While the Catholic church is reprimanding U.S. nun for focusing on helping the needy and poor instead of focusing on abortion and gay marriage, the male Catholic church heads are rewarding pedophilia among their ranks.

    The Catholic Church is corrupt.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  3. leftover

    Cardinal Dolan belongs in prison.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  4. spentecost

    Catholics are about as honorable as Romney's gang.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  5. DEB

    sjenner Dolan was morally obligated to God and those he served on earth to report these men and have them put thru the legal system! How could you even begin to suggest that he was a better bishop than many if not most??? Protecting men who may abuse again??

    May 31, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  6. RayJacksonMS

    Anyone that still attends mass or gives money to this cult is just as guilty as these pedophiles. This wouldn't keep happening if you didn't let it.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • rocketscientist

      That's BS. If lay Catholics are as guilty, why haven't any of them been charged with a crime?

      Furthermore, Catholics themselves are the ones most damaged by the pedophile priests. After all, it was their children who were abused. Do you actually claim that they conspired with the pedophile priests and bishops? If so, where's your evidence? And, again, why haven't any lay Catholics (especially parents) been charged?

      Dr. H

      May 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  7. dogface

    What makes me so mad are the archdioceses that file for bankruptcy protection. What should happen is that whatever the archdiocese can't pay for in the lawsuit is extracted from the Vatican!

    May 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  8. Eric

    Here's what any decent human being, whose mind is not warped by authoritarian religious beliefs, does the moment he or she discovers credible evidence that someone they manage is molesting or raping children: go to the police and provide the police with every scrap of evidence necessary to throw this person in jail so they cannot harm other child. Not pay them off. Not move them from parish to parish, letting these priests harm children for decades. Not obstruct police investigations.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  9. MKM

    The New York City board of Ed just this week offered buyout to the 856 losers and perverts it has on the books just to get rid of them. Exactly the same thing the Church did. It is an unfortunate reality that litigation flying inevery direction leaves employers with very little choice in these matters.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • sbp

      Was the city actively hiding the crime from the police at the time?

      May 31, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  10. Refguy

    Golden parachutes for priests! How much will Timmy get for embarrassing the church?

    May 31, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      A parish, and a condo in Rome, just like Law

      May 31, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Afghanistan Bananistan

      Law got promoted to a top position in the Vatican for his role in the cover-up, so I expect Dolan will be the next Pope.

      May 31, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  11. reasonablebe

    this looks worse and worse as each secret is revealed. what does this say about organized religion– or at least this organized religion?

    May 31, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • dogface

      Let the priests get married. If a priest is caught abusing a minor, the police should immediately be called and the so-called priest be put on trial with full cooperation of the church.

      May 31, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  12. sjenner

    I'm certainly no fan of the hierarchy of the Church, for reasons that extend beyond the great harm caused to so many people. But in this instance, Dolan's solution, while not brave, was nonetheless clever. Canon Law makes it extremely difficult to defrock a priest–and generally for good reason, because bishops were historically in the habit of defrocking priests they disliked as opposed to those who were rotten. Before very recent reforms to address predatory priests (talk about an hour late and a dollar short), the process could literally take years, had limited chance of success, and would cost the diocese a small fortune. Reaching a cash settlement with priests to voluntarily leave the priesthood shortcut the whole mess. This enabled Dolan to winnow out the bad seeds, ensuring a higher quality of priest and a more secure environment for children. A better response would've been simply to hand the priest over for prosecution, regardless of whether the priest was ready to leave the priesthood or not. But the payments weren't a bad solution, and showed Dolan to be a better bishop than many if not most.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Steve

      ERR, when I am aware of a serious offense it is expected of me to inform law enforcement. How about this for a solution. As part of your penance you will walk down to the nearest police station and confess what you did.

      May 31, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Jimmy G.

      Nope. All it did was change the method to a cheaper one, still leaving in the bad seeds who are the majority and not the exceptions here. Dolan pays off priests he doesn't like, and there is nothing to keep Dolan from protecting other bad priests while paying off a few that are too visible.
      Paying a criminal who worked for you, who did crimes according to your directions, who knowingly engaged in criminal behavior at his own behest and at the behest of his employer (you), so that the criminal can get away easier while admonishing him to keep silent and to do nothing to bring the law down on the organization, and all the rest of it, may seem clever, but it isn't.
      A criminal organization pays some underlings to leave rather than go through extra paperwork might seem admirable to someone like you, but it is a criminal act in itself, so you are supporting his criminal behavior by saying he's a really great guy.

      May 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • sjenner

      As I said, Dolan's solution was clever, not brave. It did remove these men as obligations of the Church and from ministry. That's a better result than what many dioceses achieved. Not great. Just better than the appalling average.

      May 31, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Jimmy G.

      But they weren't "obligations" of the church. They were criminals.
      The church had no obligations to them except as one criminal to another.
      This doesn't remove them from their crimes because those happened in the past.

      In the past they were acting under the criminal directions of the church.
      The priests had no obligation to protect the church's criminal behavior any more than the church had an obligation to protect the priest's criminal behavior.

      But because they are criminals together, you think this is clever because you like watching criminals try to cover up their crimes and distance themselves from their complicity as bosses, accomplices, and underlings.

      Sounds like you are probably a fan of Mafia movies.
      Those mafia slugs are clever too, aren't they? Yet they are really quite stupid.

      May 31, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  13. Diane

    I'm catholic and live in the area where all this is going on right now. Yes, I have lost complete faith in the Milwaukee Archdiocese and Listecki. I used to like Dolan but I don't trust him now either. When I look at the priests in my church, I wonder if they are pedophiles. The only way I see it is there has to be a complete breakdown of the way it is, and then start over. I think that's the only way I will regain my faith again.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • allgrownup


      May 31, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Me In Austin

      You shouldn't lose faith, you should abandon it, you fell for delusions, brainwashing and a silly storybook.

      May 31, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  14. Facepalm28

    "the most expedient and cost-effective way to have offenders laicized or removed from the priesthood"

    This is the basis upon which the organization that attempts to portray itself as the world's pillar of morality makes its decisions? Absolutely disgraceful. If these guys had any real moral backbone, they'd be willing to do whatever was necessary to ensure that those who abuse their positions and their parishoners face justice.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • David

      No matter how a situation like this is handled, there never is a way to make everyone happy. No one wins...period (except for the attorneys, financially). Further, statistically, you take a sample of 100 people, and at least one will have malicious intentions. There is no way around this possibility no matter how much screening takes place. There are malicious police officers, fire fighters, doctors, teachers, etc.

      May 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Fasdom


      May 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  15. bam

    breaking your vow with your supreme ruler means NOTHING until u have $20,000 in your hand.....
    so... i can become a priest touch a boi or 200 and make $20k. awesome.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Sherry

      What salaries are they paying now? Hello, I thought they took a vow of poverty!

      May 31, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • ME II

      A lot of work, years, for only 20K...

      May 31, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • derp

      "A lot of work, years, for only 20K"

      Yes, it's hard work ra ping little boys.

      May 31, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  16. Leucadia Bob


    May 31, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  17. Conrad Shull

    Does Canon law require paying priests money if they are in the State Penitentiary?

    May 31, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • ME II

      only the penitent ones...


      May 31, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  18. Kevin

    Most on these boards pride themselves on not being guillible, not a blind follower and being a modern day progressive. If you realized that the slew of articles by CNN on these scandals (and zero articles on the good stuff that Catholic Charities performs) is designed to attack religion and to foment negative sentiment, then you maybe you would realize you are just a pawn.

    Think. What percentage of RCC employees truly are evil? If you met 100 priests would you honestly believe that they are evil? Come on. Yes, there are problems with the administration, but people need to go beyond their first thought of frustration and use their brains.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Damo

      What sort of coward reacts to something like this by saying "the news media are just covering the bad things"?

      May 31, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • ME II

      Are you saying that it is okay to let these abuses continue because they do good in other areas?
      Should we overlook ethical lapses because they meant well?

      May 31, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Jimmy G.

      Kevin, if I met you socially, would you be as repellent and disgusting as you are on the internet? Probably.
      Any hundred priests would likely be all criminals deserving prison sentences. Criminal behavior is the norm in the RCC.

      May 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • derp

      "designed to attack religion and to foment negative sentiment"

      Yes, because otherwise the largest case of mass child se xua l assault and coverup would not have left a negative sentiment.

      It's clearly liberal media bias that makes us have such disdain for a collective organization that from the top down has systematically enabled child mol esto rs to run amok for decades.

      Darn liberal media. If it were not for them, the church would never have hidden the rampant child abuse that has been happening for hundreds of years, or protected pe do phile priests, or obstructed police investigations.

      If not for liberal media bias, the church would have immediately contacted police whenever allegations of abuse were leveled, and they would have made sure that the accused priests had no access to the children in the future.

      Shame on MSNBC.

      May 31, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  19. Vinny

    The pope looks like general Palpatine. He's probably a bigger doùchebag too. True story.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Hypatia


      May 31, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  20. It's Time

    Time to get rid of all Catholic priests in the country. Just give them the boot and then we can get to work on fixing the country without their corrupt influences and zombie followers.

    May 31, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.