Feb 21, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Conclave

Stop me if you've heard this one. So these two cardinals were getting ready for a trip to Rome to help select the next pope. But first they had to go give depositions because some priests in their former dioceses had sexually abused children -- a lot of children. One of the cardinals had paid off some of these pedophile priests. The other had a history of shuffling them out of the state to protect them from prosecution.... Okay. So it's not so much a joke as it is a horror story. And it's still being written.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, was deposed Wednesday about abuse cases against Roman Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which he led from 2002 until 2009.

. . .

The Milwaukee Archdiocese faces allegations from nearly 500 people. Archbishop Jerome Listecki, the current Milwaukee church leader, sought bankruptcy protection in 2011, saying the process was needed to compensate victims fairly while ensuring the archdiocese could still function. Milwaukee is the eighth diocese in the U.S. to seek bankruptcy protection since the abuse scandal erupted in 2002 in Boston.

. . .

Dolan is one of two U.S. cardinals to be deposed this week. Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, is scheduled to be questioned Saturday in a lawsuit over a visiting Mexican priest who police believe molested 26 children in 1987. The Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera fled to Mexico in 1988 after parents complained. He has been ousted from the priesthood but remains a fugitive.

To hear Dolan tell it, it wasn't so much a deposition as it was a lovely chat. And he says it went "very well."

"I didn't know that's what they called it. I've known for the last two, two and a half years because they had said, 'Would you be willing to answer questions about your happy years in Milwaukee,' and I said, 'You bet I would,'" Dolan said.

The plaintiffs in the case are pretty sure it was a deposition and that he has a lot to answer for -- like maneuvering abusive priests and some creative accounting.

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, who succeeded Dolan in Milwaukee, filed for bankruptcy protection, in order settle with the many sex abuse survivors and still keep the archdiocese afloat. They have already racked up around $9 million in legal costs.

In the Milwaukee Archdiocese, 575 people have filed claims saying that they were abused, over many decades, by Catholic clergymen. About 70 said they were victims of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who, church records show, admitted having molested deaf students at a boarding school outside Milwaukee, said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in St. Paul who represents 350 of the 575 plaintiffs.

Bankruptcy negotiations fell apart last year when the archdiocese argued that many of the 575 cases were invalid. Frank LoCocco, the lawyer for the Milwaukee Archdiocese and Cardinal Dolan, said the cases were beyond Wisconsin’s statute of limitations, or the plaintiffs had already received settlements, or the accused were not employed by the archdiocese.

Lawyers for the victims argue that previous archbishops, including Cardinal Dolan, intentionally stalled and kept allegations quiet so that the cases would fall beyond the statute.

In addition to these all too typical stalling tactics, Dolan has been accused of fraud. He may have shielded $55 million in a cemetery trust.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, will be pushing for a transcript of Cardinal Dolan's little chat with these nice lawyers, so we may have that to look forward to.

In the meanwhile, any Catholics who are displeased at the idea of Cardinal Mahony picking the next pope -- who might even be "dark horse candidate" Cardinal Dolan -- can protest his decision to go to Rome here.

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