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Grave inconsistencies.

Yesterday Milwaukee Catholics were treated to a six-thousand-page document dump revealing more information about the way their bishops handled the sexual-abuse crisis over the past few decades. Much of the news is distressingly familiar. You know the dirge: Abusers were routinely moved from parish to parish, or school to school, without telling local administrators why they were being reassigned. Even when bishops practically begged the Vatican to speedily laicize abusive priests, Rome took its time. (The case of John O'Brien seems particularly egregious. He'd been convicted of sexually assaulting a teenager and had petitioned John Paul II to be returned to the lay state. Then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan had to nag the Vatican to grant the petition twice in 2003. O'Brien wasn't laicized until 2009.) But the document cache released by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee does hold some surprises. 

In early 2011, Cardinal Dolan, now archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, warned readers of his blog that they might come across some "preposterous charges" concerning his tenure as archbishop of Milwaukee. Victims' attorney Jeff Anderson had been telling anyone within earshot that when Dolan was archbishop of Milwaukee he moved as much as $130 million off the archdiocese's books in an effort to shield it from victims seeking damages. Not so, said Dolan. He was simply returning money--$70 million of it--to parishes who had it on deposit with the archdiocese. What about the other $60 million? According to Dolan, he was just taking money that had been designated for the care of archdiocesan cemeteries and making sure it was "secure." The annual operating budget of the archdiocese is about $25 million.

But a letter included in the files released yesterday seems to complicate that claim. In June 2007, then-Archbishop Dolan wrote to the Vatican requesting permission to transfer nearly $57 million to a newly created trust for cemeteries owned by the archdiocese. "By transferring these assets to this trust," Dolan wrote, "I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability."

The letter was written just eleven months after word came that ten lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Wisconsin would be moving ahead in California, which had enacted legislation making it easier for victims to sue--something many feared would happen in Wisconsin and elswehere. Soon after, the archdiocese announced plans to sell its headquarters. (Dolan had already sold diocesan property totaling $4 million in order to establish a relief fund for victims.) But the housing bubble burst, and Dolan couldn't move the chancery building. 

Weeks after Dolan petitioned the Vatican for permission to create the cemeteries trust, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided to allow victims of sexual abuse by priests to sue for fraud if they could show that a diocese had transferred clergy with histories of abuse while deceptively claiming they posed no threat. That opened a window that had been held shut by a 1995 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling barring victims from suing dioceses for negligence. It's not impossible to understand why, in that climate, just as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was preparing to announce its record $660 million settlement with victims, a bishop would be extremely concerned about his diocese's financial exposure. 

Still, on Monday Cardinal Dolan put out a statement again denying that he'd transferred the $57 million in order to "shield it from bankruptcy proceedings." He does not take up the reason he gave Rome for moving the money. Instead the cardinal repeats his assertion that creating the cemetery trust was "required by state law and mandated by the archdiocesan finance council." It's not clear what law Dolan is referring to (nor does he remind readers that episcopal authority is not restricted by diocesan finance councils). "Most states have regulatory oversight of cemeteries to make sure they maintain sufficient reserves for upkeep," Jason Berry reported last year, "but dioceses, as religious organizations, are spared such regulation in Wisconsin." But even if there is a law that would compel a religious organization to conform to financial norms set by the state (and it seems that, at least when it comes to religious cemeteries, there is not), would it force the archbishop to fund that trust with so much cash--more than twice the archdiocese's annual operating budget? The cardinal's most recent statement does not help clarify these glaring inconsistencies.

Money may salve the wounds caused by sexual abuse, but by itself it cannot heal them. And no one should pretend that some dioceses' ministries could not be curtailed by large financial settlements. But as the editors of Commonweal wrote after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced its $660 million settlement with victims, "The havoc wreaked by abuser priests and the bishops who enabled them is first and foremost a matter of unimaginable private anguish for the victims.... A bishop’s fiduciary responsibility for his diocese does not override the demands of justice for victims."



Commenting Guidelines

This money was Archbishop Cousins's/Weakland's/Dolan's/Listecki's.  Victims of their bad decisions have every right go after these resources because Catholics handed it over without demanding accountability. 

Jack, I understand the emotional appeal of this argument, but I've never found it - that the people of a diocese "deserve" to have their diocese looted because the church isn't a very accountable organization - a very compelling one.  By that logic, the people also "deserve" it if their bishop spends diocesan money on hookers, or pays it to a blackmailer.  The fact is, the people deserve none of these things.  

The church is sufficiently accountable, or isn't, regardless of whether victims were abused.  Victims' claims should be judged on their own merits, not used as some crude bludgeon to club the Catholic church for other reasons.


Jim P you may have doubts that the transfers were to avoid law suits 

If you think that is what I have been saying, you haven't followed my arguments - or perhaps I haven't written them very clearly.  I don't doubt that bishops and dioceses do all sorts of things to limit their liability for all sorts of reasons, including liability to victims of sexual abuse.  I'd be angry if they didn't.  In doing this, I do think they should obey just laws.


- per agreed upon history, Dolan spent a year as auxiliary in STL reading thru the abuse/clerical files - he lost weight, couldn't sleep, described it as his personal Lenten journey, etc.  Yet, once a bishop, this experience does not seem to have led to many pastoral or good outcomes. 

What are we to make of that? How can that be explained? He learned, then he un-learned? What can we do about it? 

In fact look at the staggering millions spent on defending Monsignor Lynn of Philadelphia, more than 6 million for that 1 case.  Then there is the much greater sum spent to defend Bishop Finn of Kansas City who pled guilty to child endangerment.  

Those weren't victim lawsuits.  Those were criminal prosecutions by the state.  To the best I can recall, I've never objected to either one, nor defended either defendant's conduct.  (I have seen some things commented here suggesting that Lynn was railroaded, but those comments didn't come from me, and I don't know enough about the specifics of Lynn's case to have an opinion; unless I learn otherwise, my opinion is that justice has been done).  FWIW, I think both convictions stand as salutary warnings to other bishops and diocesan officials - and to any clergy or church employee.

For that matter, I've never defended any instance of abuse, or any coverup, or any enablement by a diocese, that seems credible.  All of these things fill me with revulsion.  But I think jackpot justice is bad for the church for many reasons, and probably a mixed blessing at best for victims, and I'd like to see both sides pursue less adversarial ways of bringing about justice.




If it's legitmate for you to speculate about the cost of maintaining the Milwaukee cemeteries, then it's legitimate for me to speculate about it too.  And the issue I was talking about is whether or not the Cardinal told a lie, not whether he should protect the diocese's capital.

I'm quite sure that the costs to the Archdiocese of New Orleans to maintain our Catholic cemeteries are much higher than the costs of maintaining cemeteries in other American cities.  The reason is because ours are prime tourist targets that dozens and dozens  of thousands of tourists visit each year.  (We generally bury people in tombs and some of the tombs are works of art.)  It so happens that this very week our archbishop published his yearly report on finances, and I looked it over.  I certainly didn't notice any outlay of millions of dollars for the cemeteries which would have required the income from $57 million.  The claim that Milwaukee needs the income from $57M for its cemeteries is preposterous.  In other words, somebody is lying about what that $57M is actually used for.

You can argue that the Milwaukee bishop had a right -- even a duty --  to protect the money, but it seems to me that protecting the diocese of  Milwaukee from lawsuits  is not on a par with, say,  protecting Jews from the Nazis.  This lie was not justified, especially since it was against the law.

What I wonder about is how C. Dolan could have been so stupid as to think he'd get away with such a lie.  Is he one of those people who thinks he can talk his way out of any corner?

When it comes to humility in the leadership of this church, there are too few Francises and way too many Dolans.  Way too many.

Re:  Bill deHaas July 4, 2013 - 12:26pm

When Alan Vigneron was Bishop of Oakland, he attempted to attach diocesan cemetery funds for some other uses.

At the time he was told by the director of said fund that those funds were assets of a separately constituted 501(c)3 corporation and if AV tried to touch them, he would be sued.  (I got this directly from the fund director and have no reason not to believe him.)

AV demurred.

Now THAT is how things should be done.

Rev. Mr. Pauwels -- what I am saying is we deserve a more accountable Church.  We deserve more of a say in our leaders.  If we are going to continue with a top down model where all power to appoint bishops comes from Rome -- at the very least there should be limits and checks and balances.  There should be boards of lay people who have real power on a diocesan level and the faithful should elect these boards.  These boards don't have to touch issues of doctrine, theology, dogma, etc. -- but real oversight on more temporal issues should be in place.


Another keeper, Grant.

Is fraud a misdemeanor or a felony when it gets to $57 million?

As for Jeff Anderson, he is one of my heroes, and deserves every cent.


On the heels of the Globe’s revelations, Anderson’s phone rang continuously. Clients, usually referred by lawyers who knew of him, came from all over.

At the time, his practice was costing a lot more mon­ey than it was bringing in. His work had gotten tougher after a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling in 1996 that narrowly interpreted a law giving plaintiffs six years to file suit after discovering they were injured by sexual abuse. Anderson had lobbied for the expanded statute of limitations, which passed in its original form in 1989. Black­o­wiak v. Kemp, 546 N.W.2d 1.

By 2002, his 12-lawyer firm, Reinhardt & Anderson, had nearly tapped out its credit lines. Debt ran into the millions of dollars. While some of the other lawyers worked cases with Anderson, the firm’s specialty was antitrust and class actions.

“I pledged all my personal assets, and the others were very much opposed to the amount of money I was spend­ing, and we were in significant financial distress,”

Ander­son explains. “They said, ‘You’ve got to stop doing this,’ and we split in an acrimonious divorce.”

Yes, I hope he is making significant money to expand his practice. I believe he was almost kidnapped in Mexico when he went there to help a victim. Supposed immigration agents showed up at his hotel, saying he should come with them for violating his visa, and he was about to escorted out with supposed agents. Someone with his group phoned the police, who showed up in time to take him immediately to the airport to get him out of the country.

See him on a panel in NYC recently:

Impressive, all of them on the panel.

I've called Jeff for help for survivors and he is fearless. He also knows every chancery trick in the book. His fuel is the way bishops treat survivors, and he is just mad enough to see that their d_mnable lies are challenged.

Bless "Anderson and his ilk."

Jim P: I know we differ, and that is reality. I just felt the need to offer a counter view about Anderson. 


Carolyn - right, we differ, but we also agree on much.  I'm grateful for your comments.

Carolyn --

Thanks for the information about Anderson.  So much for the "greedy lawyer" trope (though I don't doubt there are some of those).  Anderson deserves a medal, not slander.

All the talk of financial accountability means little and will come to nothing unless the people who provide the money have some real control over how it is used. That means parish and diocesan councils that can do more than offer advice; that can actually authorize expenditures or, at the least, veto them.

Bishops will never willingly relinquish even a power they are not well suited to exercise. So the only practical alternative to an unsatisfactory status quo is to withhold contributions or to redirect them to worthwhile organizations that are accountable. Call it the Leverage of the Sheep.

Ann - the comment about Dolan's STL history.  Here is why I don't think he learned anything:  To borrow from a truism, you have to talk the talk and walk the walk.  Dolan is very good at talking the talk but his walking the walk is significantly influenced by his clerical stance; church is hierarchy stance; ambition driven persona.  Thus, when push came to shove in Milwaukee, Dolan was most comfortable in the role of protector of the institution; priest/abuser came first; clerical instincts and clerical family came first.  Whether we like it or not, clerical abusers are part of Dolan's diocesan family - this is what he will protect first;  his role as *spiritual father* to victims comes second.  It is an eternal tension and the people of God, children, lose out.  Remember when, in 2002, Bishop Wilton Gregory's chancellor, a married father of three or more kids, wrote a very personal appeal letter as Gregory headed to Dallas.  It obviously was written by a father (or mother) in terms of the need to protect children first and always.  (Think Carolyn Disco has published the link before).  Compare that to any bishop in terms of their language, actions, feelings.  (it is the rare cleric who can react as a biological father/mother does).  Thus, Dolan has to make a choice - does his diocesan family come first or his clerical family?  And you know how that internal and very personal struggle usually plays out.   Interesting info about SF cemetery fund - yet, that was set up completely separately from any type of pendiing bankruptcy decisions....unlike Dolan and Milwaukee.  JP - if my memory serves me, the public posting of the LA archdiocesan abuse settlement, indicated that archdiocesan lawyers were paid, at minimum, $20-$30 million range over 5+ years and may have made twice that because archdiocesan spending audits do not reveal all of the LA costs or spending details - much is hidden; buried under a heading with little specific details, etc.  And this at a time when Mahoney is laying off a few hundred diocesan employees; closing important departments e.g. hispanic outreach/education; cutting back on religious education; etc. Not sure I get your distinction between an abuser case and Monsignor Lynn's case because Lynn was being prosecuted.....all abuse cases are criminal and prosections.  Difference is that Philly, for the most part, paid for Lynn's defense is rare for a bishop to pay the defense team of an accused clerical abuser.  So, that is an episcopal decision - has nothing to do with a DA or folks such as Jeff Anderson.

Bill deH. --

No doubt you're right about C. Dolan and his diocesan family.  But in his case especially I think there is also his immaturity at play.  I see him as a sometimes charming 10-year-old boy in a 60-year-old body.  His tribe is his gang, and he is their fearless leader responsible for protecting them all from the howling Indians who are circling their camp.  

I've noticed in the last year or so that when the hierarchy talks about reforming the seminaries they talk a great deal about the immaturity of some seminarians.  I suspect this immaturity problem has been going on for a lot longer than they would admit.  But it's not their fault entirely.  The RCC doesn't really encourage maturity very much in anybody.   

Bill DeH:  the fund I talked about was/is in the diocese of Oakland, not SF.  I don't know if there have been any changes since the time I mentioned.  I most certainly hope not.

I don't see how obtaining damages incurred as a result of wrongful conduct constitutes looting of diocesan assets.  Do members of parishes within the diocese "deserve" what ends up being their diminished capacity to do good or to fund schools?  In a larger sense, no, no more than I would deserve to lose the equity in my house if my husband injured someone in a car accident for which we have insufficient insurance.  But I would be less deserving of continuing my ownership of said assets than the wronged party.  It's all relative, and the fact that people contribute unconditionally weakens their continuing claim to the disposition those assets (just as it would in any other situation with donated property).  Their expectations (for instance, to the continued operation of their parish school) are not grounded in any legal entitlement (as it might have been if they had established a trust that funded school expenses, for instance).  Their main recourse is to stop donating. 

Not sure I get your distinction between an abuser case and Monsignor Lynn's case because Lynn was being prosecuted.....all abuse cases are criminal and prosections. 

Hi, Bill, the difference in this instance is that a state prosecutor / district attorney is paid by the government and earns a fixed salary, whereas a civil lawsuit frequently is taken on a contingency basis.  The prospect of a large award is an economic incentive for plaintiff attorneys - who, as Caroline rightly points out, also bear the financial risk if the venture (the lawsuit) doesn't work out in plaintiff's favor.  I don't mean to come across as overly critical of the contingency fee system, as I believe that in many cases (including, I'd expect, in at least some if not most of the cases in which a diocese is sued) it serves as a workable way to get the case of a poor plaintiff into court with a realistic chance of getting justice done against a powerful defendant with deep pockets.  (For this reason, I'm generally opposed to legislative proposals to cap damage awards).

It does gall me, though, that funds collected by a parish for a parish are vulnerable to plaintiff awards, when that parish has no direct connection at all to either the plaintiff or the abusive cleric.  Nor do I see that a particular diocese has a responsibility to make up for Jeff Anderson's lean years because he wasn't as good at his craft when he sued some other dioceses.  


"It does gall me, though, that funds collected by a parish for a parish are vulnerable to plaintiff awards, when that parish has no direct connection at all to either the plaintiff or the abusive cleric."


This is a common but inaccurate understanding of Church legal structures and finances. 

Typically, the Parish and all of its assets belong to the Diocese, which is incorporated as a "Corporation Sole (in most states)"  The only shareholder, officer and director of that corporation is the Bishop.  All Parish assets, as a legal matter, belong to the bishop.  No matter what any parishioner was told, promised or led to believe, all donations are available for the personal use of the bishop as he sees fit in his discretion.  Obviously, under this legal structure, a judgment against the bishop can be satisfied out of any or all of the assets under the bishop's control.  This rule applies to all persons who have lost a lawsuit.

It doens't have to be that way.  The Church chose this legal structure, aware of the legal consequences.  As an alternative, the Church could set up each parish as a separate corporation.  If it had done so, then each parish woudl be liable for its own debts only and the assets of one parish woudl not be used to satisfy a judgment against the bishop.  Of course, the bishop would then lose the ability to financially coerce doctrinal purity under such a structure  (See Baptist churches).  The loss of that ability presents a greater danger to the bishop's power than having all assets in the diocese available for the rare judgment.

Essentially, Dolan was attempting to set up a separate entity after the fact for the cemetery fund.  That's legally frowned upon, especially in bankruptcy court.

Just know that your donations are for use at the Bishop's sole discretion, if you chose to make them.  You would be mistaken if you thought the donations could be earmaked for a particular purpose and shielded from legal liability.  That's why I donate zero dollars to the Parish.  I donate to separate corporations such as Catholic Worker, Project Rachel and St. Vincent De Paul

"It does gall me, though, that funds collected by a parish for a parish are vulnerable to plaintiff awards, when that parish has no direct connection at all to either the plaintiff or the abusive cleric."

If you find it galling, then perhaps you should at least identify the correct target for your anger, and that is the person who left the diocese and its parishes exposed to such judgments, which would be, first, the offending priest, second, the bishop who failed to deal with the situation appropriately, and third, whoever set up the "all for one, one for all" legal structure of the enterprise.  Most corporations are very careful to segregate distinct economic units into separate legal entity status for a whole host of reasons, and that's just one of them.  Indeed, this catastrophe has been walking in slow motion for the last two going on three decades, and any diocese in the country had plenty of time to protect parishes through adopting a different legal entity structure to avoid this result.  It isn't the fault of people wronged by priests and Church officials that they were derelict about this as well.  (Bankruptcy only prevents transfers that are close in time to the bankruptcy -- if the diocesan funds had been transferred to the cemetary fund far enough in advance, it would not have been a problem.)