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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. James PDX Mostly Straight

    These priests are not even true Christians. A true Christian would be too busy stoning people to death to molest little boys.

    May 31, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • ןןɐq ʎʞɔnq

      I think you might have them mixed up with the moon-god cult, (Islam).

      May 31, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  2. DEEZ

    Religion = BDSM

    May 31, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  3. davidvalentine

    So, no mention of the option to turn them over to authorities for due process? There were crimes committed, and hushing it up makes them accessory after the fact with obstruction of justice charges as well. But the Arch Bishop is more concerned with a college kids birth control then crimes and victims.

    May 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  4. Jim

    Okay to sweep pedophile priests under the rug, but we wouldn't want to have a female priest, or a married priest, or perish the thought, a female, married priest.

    May 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  5. Steve

    To the Catholic Church leaders there is nothing, nothing more important then the church itself. People come a far second in priority.

    May 31, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  6. alpeaston

    "Humanity will not be free until the last KING is strangled with the entrails of the last PRIEST!!!" 18TH Century French Philosopher

    May 31, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  7. Mar

    It is time for the walls of secrecy, crime and protection of criminals throughout the mega-rich, male dominated Vatican to be torn open and to allow everything under that roof and within that organization to be scrutinized and come under the laws which all other citizens have to live. It is widely known that grave numbers of priests have exploited their power to harm innocent children who are led to them like sheep to the slaughter and the cover ups, moving priests from one location to another without legal confrontation and punishment, fighting tooth and nail against paying to help those they have not just harmed but devastated for entire lifetimes. It is time to unveil this shroud of secrecy, crime, manipulation… this organization is anything BUT Godly – it represents NOTHING to do with GOD, Nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, Nothing to Jesus and His example….. there is nothing kind, loving, peace-building, honest, respectful and life-giving within the confines of this organization. It is a political, financial haven, self-govered, criminal organization.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • ChicagoLoop

      I concur.

      May 31, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • dogface

      The Vatican needs to be dissolved. All those who inhabit the Vatican need to be put under Italy and its laws.

      May 31, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      I agree with most of your comment but you are mistaken when you claim that it has nothing to do with god. Supernatural belief and the power that you give to those who rise to leadership positions within all religions are precisely the problem. You could even pat yourself on the back if you never attend church but as long as you count yourself among the religious of the world you are lending credibility to millions of religious power-mongers around our planet. You want to believe that it has nothing to do with religion so you can preserve your own beliefs. I used to believe in the supernatural but thankfully I have found freedom from that particular form of slavery.

      May 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • JIm Marler

      Growing up they use to sat money is the root of all evil...I went to church every time the doors were open. There are many good people in the church but I can tell you after working for the for a hospital for 6 years in akey position I found this instiution of over 1,000 could care less about their employees. It was the very lowest wages and benefits and don't question our mission. While after 6 year they felt I was making a poor decision by leaving. The employees were wonderful and I enjoyed seeing them trying to improve their life.

      I have absolutely no confidence in what all these lunactic have to say about the Bible. Probably 90% don't even know that Paul, Mathew, John the other could not write or read and never knew Jesus. The myth that has been visited upon us by these religious organization needs serious mental health treatment. While the Bible does make some good points in treatment of your neighbor most is off the page.

      May 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Sra. Julia

      I am with you on this there needs to be a thorough investigation and the ones found culpable tried and punished no matter who it turns out to be.

      May 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  8. Jerry

    The Church is the root of evil.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  9. lloyd roberts

    Cardinal Dolan is a man who doesn't really understand what the founding fathers meant about the church and it's influence, of course the founding fathers being Protestant deists who believed in a loving God but disdained organized religion. He uses his church exempt status to preach and influence politics quite a lot and the Catholic vote. Doesn't surprise me if he is knee deep in some type of cover up conspiracy.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • ןןɐq ʎʞɔnq

      But he's JOLLY. How can you dislike someone who's so JOLLY ?

      May 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  10. Edwardo

    Better for whom? Clearly it is better for the bishop if the mess just goes away quietly. It is not better for the victims, victims to be, or society as a whole.

    Is the fact of paying someone to go away quietly when you are required to report their actions as crimes enough to prove a conspiracy to obstruct justice? Is paying donated money to cover up a crime enough to lose their tax exempt charity status?

    May 31, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Adam McMillan

      There seems to be some confusion. This is not a payout rather than reporting to the police. The payments happened after the report had been made. In most cases the statute of limitation had run out so these men could not be arrested.

      May 31, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  11. Puhleeeze

    So the RCC would have been comfortable dismissing pedophiles into the greater community rather than prosecute pedophiles for abusing children. How shallow can the RCC go?

    May 31, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  12. olepi

    "The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection last year ..."

    Pretty much says it all. The "Church" was morally bankrupt long before they finally filed for financial bankruptcy.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Jerry

      Amen to that Brother!

      May 31, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • FritzfromPa

      Even single religion is run like a con game. They have no conscience about what Jesus really preached and none of them live up to what He said were His main objectives for a pure and simple life. Take care of the least of my people, the poor, the sick, and those shunned by society. The religion businesses don't do any of those things and today Joel Osteen speaks to thousands about how Jesus wants us to be rich. He charges over one hundred dollars just to get into his assembly theaters and drool when he speaks of great wealth is. Every religion distorts Jesus' words for the gain of power over their congregations and the money they can bring in. They promise people salvation only if they participate in their con games. Let us see gaggles of religious leaders walking the streets of America on Sundays handing out alms to every desolate-looking human being sleeping in parks, let them take these people to dinner, but them a warm coat, and pay for a doctor visit. Then they will be doing Jesus' work. World Religions have been scamming societies forever and have caused more wars and brutal murders than lesser criminals and they have always gotten away with it because "they did it in Jesus name". Why are they privileged to be exempt from being taxed when the poorest of poor pay at least some kind of tax to some government?

      May 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  13. Mikita Black Cloud

    Please look to the ongoing state and church coverup in the state of South Dakota.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  14. Wellyup

    Wonder if they had to pay any tax on that 20 grand. Love the fact that there are no agnostics or atheists in the republican party. Don't do as I do. Do as I say.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  15. Norps

    Hey, The church and Catholics everywhere would prefer we discuss the sins of gays.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Puhleeeze

      Sin is your concept. We are without sin!

      May 31, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • James PDX Mostly Straight

      Since they were molesting little boys, aren't these then the sins of gays?

      May 31, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  16. billsf

    Will there ever be a pope younger than 80?

    May 31, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  17. paul

    should have removed their nuts. screw the pope!

    May 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  18. jrm03063

    No surprise here. These are the guys who think it's they're "religious freedom" that's at stake, when the matter is really whether they have a special privilege to abuse their employees by not covering reproductive health care benefits.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  19. Paul

    "One Catholic church source defended the payment plan" ... that is murky reporting!! Anonymous quoting a joe-nobody is the best way to spread gossip.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  20. jgp854

    It would be one thing if a priest were removed and given severance pay for defrauding the Church, or some other legal matter.But these are so with child molesters being released to the public. The general public has no idea who they are, what they've done, and what they are capable of.

    It's unjust to the victims, the general public, and the priests – who are in obvious need of psychological help. (See the case of Fr. Michael Kelly, who fled to Ireland last month after being convicted. Doubtful that the church has any interest in notifying the authorities in Ireland, or helping track him down).

    Church officials like Cardinal Dolan should be arrested and charged with federal racketeering for knowingly covering up felonies. Forget JFK and the 9/11 Truthers – this is the biggest conspiracy in the history of the country.

    May 31, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • just sayin

      Hey God Bless the Cahtolics and church they support. Your smell reaches the gates of hell.

      May 31, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • ChicagoLoop

      I agree. The fact that Vatican City is a sovereign nation is evidence that corruption has enveloped this organization from its genesis. Since when is a church a sovereign nation and have its own bank? Catholics are some of the most naive people on the planet to willfully follow this organization and to bequeath so much to it. When will the madness end?

      May 31, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • ChicagoLoop

      @justsayin: Look no further than the gates of Vatican City to find the so-called Gates of Hell.

      May 31, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • James PDX Mostly Straight

      I visited the gates of hell, uh, I mean Vatican City. The moneychangers right out front charged a 28% fee just to give you your own money in Euros.

      May 31, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
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About this blog

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.