Pope Francis may be nearing a tipping point on sexual abuse

March 28, 2015


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I thank George Bouchey for this link.

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Pope Francis may be nearing a tipping point on sexual abuse

john_allen-2 John L. Allen Jr.Associate editor™ @JohnLAllenJr

John L. Allen Jr., associate editor, specializes in coverage of the Vatican. FULL BIO

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Protestors, background left, shouted as Bishop Juan Barros, center left, entered the cathedral for the ceremony that installed him as bishop of Osorno in southern Chile March 21.

(AP Photo/Mario Mendoza Cabrera)


By John L. Allen Jr.

Associate editor March 27, 2015

Staffers in the Vatican paid to think about such things sometimes sit around trying to identify possible tipping points in the public romance with Pope Francis, meaning a calamity that might put a serious dent in his high approval ratings.

One no-brainer on the list would be a perception that he’s backtracking on “zero tolerance” when it comes to sexual abuse in the Church, and two recent story lines suggest it’s not an abstract worry.

First, Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reported on Thursday that five members of the pope’s own anti-abuse commission have expressed “concern and incredulity” that Bishop Juan Barros has been given command of the Diocese of Osorno in Chile, despite his public record of defending the country’s most notorious abuser priest.

Those objections came on top of protests that forced Barros’ installation Mass to be cut short, as well as ongoing efforts by clergy and laity to ask Francis to rethink the appointment.

Second, an Argentine woman named Julieta Añazco, who alleges abuse by a priest in the La Plata archdiocese more than 30 years ago, recently said that she sent a letter to Francis asking for his help, but has not received a response.

Añazco, who says she repressed memories of the abuse until recently, has told reporters that she has tried to meet Church officials back home but got the impression they’re not interested. (Church officials claim they tried to schedule a sit-down three times, without success.)

In a recent statement, Añazco asserts that “zero tolerance” doesn’t apply in Argentina.

Of the two developments, the second seems less serious in terms of raising questions about the pope. The abuse did not take place in Buenos Aires, the archdiocese Francis led prior to his election, so there’s no question of his role in supervising the priest.

Further, Añazco says she dropped her letter in a mailbox in St. Peter’s Square, so it’s not even clear if it reached the pope. It would be a relatively simple matter for Francis to ask someone to hear her out, though since she’s communicating through attorneys, it might require a bit of back-and-forth.

The Barros case, on the other hand, appears graver.

In the first place, it raises questions about the vetting process for bishops. How is it that Italian Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, the pope’s ambassador in Chile, didn’t see this coming and spare everyone the embarrassment?

In an interview with a Chilean news outlet on Thursday, Scapolo insisted that he didn’t hide anything from the Vatican in preparing the appointment. He said Francis confirmed it, and claimed that calls for Barros to be ridden out of town on a rail violate religious freedom.

All that may well be the case, but it still doesn’t explain why a clean record on the abuse scandals isn’t an absolute prerequisite for a leadership position in the Catholic Church in 2015. (Barros was already a bishop, so the move to Osorno was a transfer.)

In addition, the situation also raises questions about the oft-proclaimed commitment of Pope Francis and his Vatican team to accountability, not just for personnel who commit abuse, but also for bishops and other supervisors who cover it up or defend the guilty.

A perceived lack of accountability is “Exhibit A” for critics who believe the Church hasn’t done enough, and both Pope Francis and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, the president of the pope’s anti-abuse commission, have pledged that the gap will be filled.

In this case, Barros has said he never knew of abuse committed by his mentor, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, and that when the Vatican found Karadima guilty in 2011, he accepted the verdict. Some victims, however, claim that Barros was present when some of their abuse occurred.

The bishop’s defense obviously should be part of a serious inquest, but the question remains of why Francis would assign Barros a new position before doubts have been laid to rest.

Finally, the Barros situation is worrying for Francis because members of his own anti-abuse commission have broken ranks, including the two abuse survivors on the panel: Marie Collins of Ireland and Peter Saunders of the United Kingdom.

It’s not clear if Francis fully grasped this at the time, but when he named survivors to that group, he was handing them significant control over his reputation. If Collins and Saunders were ever to walk out, saying they’d lost confidence or feeling that they’d been exploited for a PR exercise, it would have a vast media echo.

No member hinted at such a step in their comments to the AP. Collins, however, was sharply critical: “The voice of the survivors is being ignored,” she said, “the concerns of the people and many clergy in Chile are being ignored and the safety of children in this diocese is being left in the hands of a bishop about whom there are grave concerns for his commitment to child protection.”

Left unaddressed, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which her frustration mounts to a point where she feels she has no choice but to quit.

Of course, popes can’t make decisions merely on the basis of public opinion, and in any event, when it comes to fighting sexual abuse, it shouldn’t require a poll to discern the right thing. Yet popes can’t afford to ignore popular sentiment either, and this may be a time when Francis needs to send a signal that he’s listening.

 john.allen@cruxnow.com ™ @JohnLAllenJr

John L. Allen Jr., associate editor, specializes in coverage of the Vatican. MORE



March 28, 2015

I received the following email from Peter Isely.

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Angry Protest Over New Bishop in Chile

March 22, 2015


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“Hundreds of demonstrators dressed in black barged into a cathedral…”  

Have the people spoken?


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SANTIAGO, Chile — Hundreds of demonstrators dressed in black barged into a cathedral in a city in southern Chile on Saturday and interrupted the installation ceremony for the city’s new Roman Catholic bishop, Juan Barros, whom they accuse of complicity in a notorious case of clerical sexual abuse, blocking his passage and shouting, “Barros, get out of the city!”

The scene inside the Cathedral San Mateo de Osorno was chaotic, with television images showing clashes between Barros opponents, carrying black balloons, and Barros supporters, carrying white ones. Radio reports said several protesters tried to climb onto the altar where Bishop Barros was standing. After the ceremony, he left the cathedral through a side door escorted by police special forces. Outside, about 3,000 people, including local politicians and members of Congress, held signs and chanted demands that he resign.

Weeks of protests, candlelight vigils and letters to Pope Francis were not enough to persuade him to rescind his decision in January to appoint Bishop Barros to lead the Diocese of Osorno, 570 miles south of the capital, Santiago. Bishop Barros was a close associate of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a prominent Santiago priest whom the Vatican found guilty of sexual abuse in 2011. Father Karadima, now 84, was ordered to retire to a “life of prayer and penitence.”

Bishop Juan Barros
CreditLa Tercera, via Associated Press

The appeal was also a test case for the pope’s stated policy of zero tolerance for clerical abuses.

“We are used to the blows by the Chilean Catholic hierarchy, but it’s especially hurtful when the slap in the face comes from Pope Francis himself,” Juan Carlos Cruz, 51, who said he was abused by Father Karadima in the ’80s, said in a telephone interview. “We hoped he was different.”

On Saturday, the Vatican declined to comment on Francis’ appointment of Bishop Barros.

Mr. Cruz and three other young men who were devoted followers of Father Karadima, and members of a Catholic youth movement he oversaw, accused him of sexually abusing them over two decades, starting when they were teenagers. Criminal charges were filed against the priest alleging abuse during the years 1980 to 1995, but a Chilean judge dismissed them in 2011, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

In a February letter to Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, the papal nuncio to Chile, Mr. Cruz accused Bishop Barros of covering up Father Karadima’s abuses, threatening seminarians if they spoke out about them and, while serving as secretary to Cardinal Juan Francisco Fresno, destroying letters addressed to him reporting the abuses.

“When we were in Karadima’s bedroom, Juan Barros saw how he touched us and made us kiss him,” said Mr. Cruz, referring to himself and other young victims. “He witnessed all of that countless times. And he has covered it all up.”

In a statement addressed to the Osorno community, Bishop Barros denied any knowledge of the abuses. “I never imagined the serious abuses committed by this priest,” he said. “I have never approved or participated in these gravely dishonest acts.”

In February, more than 30 priests and deacons of the Osorno Diocesesigned a letter to Archbishop Scapolo asking the pope to reverse his decision. “We don’t feel embraced, and much less understood, by our church hierarchy,” they said. “The spiritual union of our church has been damaged.” Days earlier, 51 members of the Chilean Congress sent a letter to the Vatican asking the pope to revoke the appointment.

On Wednesday, the Chilean Bishops Conference issued a brief statement backing Pope Francis in “a spirit of faith and obedience” and calling for the unity of the church, without addressing the accusations against the bishop.

The archbishop of Concepción, Fernando Chomalí, met with the pope in Rome on March 6. “I spoke to him at length about the consequences the appointment has had in Osorno and the country,” Archbishop Chomalí said in a text message. “He was very well-informed of the letters he had received through different channels. The pope told me he had analyzed the situation in detail and found no reason” to reverse his decision.

Juan Carlos Claret, 21, a law student and church member who has been leading the protests in Osorno, said at least six candlelight vigils had been held in front of the cathedral in recent weeks. “A bishop has to have moral authority and Barros doesn’t have it, not for priests, lay people or civil society,” he said. “What does it take for Barros to resign, if he has the entire community against him?”

Correction: March 21, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated Juan Carlos Cruz’s age. He is 51, not 50.

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson charged with concealing child sex abuse

March 17, 2015


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Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson charged with concealing child sex abuse

Adelaide Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson has been charged with concealing child sexual abuse, New South Wales Police have confirmed.

The charges relate to paedophile priest Jim Fletcher, who worked with the Archbishop in NSW in the 1970s.

The NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into the Maitland Catholic Diocese recommended that a senior church official be charged over the matter, although the report did not name the official.

NSW Police said its operation, Strike Force Lantle, launched in 2010, investigated allegations of concealment of serious offences related to child abuse by clergy “formerly and currently attached to the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese of the Catholic Church”.

They alleged that Archbishop Wilson, 64, concealed a serious offence.

He is due to appear in the Newcastle Local Court on April 30.

More to come.

‘Gayest’ US Catholic parish strives to maintain openness, accepting

March 16, 2015


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‘Gayest’ US Catholic parish strives to maintain openness, accepting

  • Precious Blood Frs. Jack McClure, left, and Matt Link (Dennis Callahan)
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This is the first in a five-part series about San Francisco’s Most Holy Redeemer Church. Each day this week, we will publish one part of this story. Find all parts here.On a damp and chilly Saturday morning, a dozen men and women converge on Most Holy Redeemer Church at 18th and Diamond in the heart of the Castro. Entering, they peel off gloves, remove their hats and take a place in pews near a wooden altar that sits on a platform in the center of the church.

Mostly in their 60s or 70s, these parishioners have come to church for the 8 a.m. Mass. They’re familiar with each other, offering a greeting of nods or quiet “good mornings” as they settle in.

Precious Blood Fr. Jack McClure, standing near the altar, is preparing for Mass. He kisses a stole, places it over his shoulders, and then sits down in the front pew with the group.

Several men next to the altar struggle to cut hardened wax from the tips of altar candles as they look for wicks large enough to light. One man fetches the cruets; another, the altar missal. One in the group announces the opening hymn: “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

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The Mass has an intimacy lasting less than a half hour, punctuated by McClure’s homily. Coming two days after Christmas, he references the Nativity story and Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter.

“Everyone needs shelter; everyone needs a protective environment,” McClure notes, adding this is precisely what Most Holy Redeemer attempts to do — provide shelter. He talks about the need to maintain an open and accepting parish.

“And just as our parish is an accepting parish,” he adds, “each of us needs to be accepting people. But sometimes the most difficult thing about being accepting is accepting ourselves.”

His words, hardly idle, seem to have special application to those gathered for the liturgy. They listen intently. A few nod.

Most Holy Redeemer Parish has earned a reputation locally — and beyond — for being a distinctly open and accepting parish. It actively welcomes everyone, no questions asked. The parish motto is “God’s inclusive love proclaimed here.” A banner hanging above two large doors that open up into the church is inscribed with these words.

But this isn’t what makes Most Holy Redeemer, or “MHR,” as the locals call it, one of the nation’s most distinctive parishes. The parish has the reputation of likely being the “gayest” Catholic parish in the nation. Eighty percent of its parishioners are LGBT people.

MHR draws its parishioners not only from within the Castro, but also from throughout the San Francisco Bay area. Furthermore, most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics who visit this West Coast city know of its welcoming reputation, and so the pews at Sunday services invariably are filled with Catholics from across the nation.

The parish’s “gayness” isn’t the only thing that makes it unusual. MHR, unlike most other local parishes its size, has two priests who work as a team. Other San Francisco parishes its size, with some 400 single or family units, struggle to keep even a single priest.

McClure and Precious Blood Fr. Matt Link, his associate, or formally his parochial vicar, came to Most Holy Redeemer in July 2014, volunteering to fill a vacancy. McClure, 70, came out of semiretirement from Liberty, Mo., following heart surgery; Link, 52, left a parish north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Tiburon, Calif. Current plans call for Link to succeed McClure as pastor in July.

In a few short months, the priests have settled into parish life.

George Woyames, a parishioner going back decades, has seen many priests come and go. He says McClure and Link complement each other, describing the former as a strong man with a clear vision, “a Paul Bunyan with a cross,” and Link as a man “filled with the spirit.”

Listening to stories

The story of Most Holy Redeemer is best understood within the context of the pain and rejection its parishioners (and the wider LGBT Catholic community) have experienced at the hands of the Catholic church. It cannot be fully understood without listening to stories heard within the parish of torturous self-reflection, confusion and loneliness, stories of banishment and long searches for a place that could provide comfort and community.

The Gospels reveal Jesus had close relationships with men and women and taught nothing specifically about sexuality. Early Christian communities, influenced by Greek stoicism, infused the church with some of its earliest negative attitudes about sex. So negative were views on sex that concessions were made to sexual intercourse as a necessity to maintain human propagation. Indeed, the church has taught that original sin was passed down through the sex act.

Some of this negativity lifted from Catholic sexual ethics after Thomas Aquinas settled on understandings of nature and natural law theology as a moral guide in matters of sexuality. Insights gathered from 20th-century natural and social sciences in terms of what it means to be fully human have struggled to gain a foothold in official Catholic teachings on moral theology, but with limited success.

The institutional church professes that all expressions of sexual intimacy must be limited to marriage and must always be open to procreation. These teachings eliminate gays and lesbians from having any licit intimate relations. The Catholic hierarchy has routinely rebuffed efforts by Catholic theologians to introduce a more pastoral moral theology.

While rigid Catholic teachings that condemn all gay sex acts have held steadfast for centuries, wider public attitudes toward LGBT lifestyles have undergone revolutionary change in just a few decades, especially in the West. In the 1990s, for example, most Americans said they knew no one who was gay. Today, 60 percent say someone close to them is gay. A majority of Americans now support legally recognizing same-sex marriage.

Official church teachings call for LGBT tolerance and acceptance, but church practice belies this. Countless stories continue to be recorded of lesbian and gay Catholics who are fired from parish or diocesan jobs simply for going public that they live in a same-sex relationship.

When applied to religious or clerical life, the virtue of chastity is viewed as a gift given to a relative few — those who enter religious communities or become priests. When applied to LGBT people, there is no talk about chastity as a “gift.” Rather, the institutional church teaches, it is a demand, an obligation, across the board, for all. LGBT people, the church teaches, must refrain from all sexual intimacy.

This seemingly impossible demand and concomitant threat of serious sin has sent countless young LGBT Catholics into confusion and self-loathing and even to suicide.

Reaffirming official church teachings, a 1986 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document signed by its head, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI), famously called the gay inclination “objectively disordered.”

The next year, San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn, a reform-minded prelate, tried to soften the blow, writing in America magazine that “every person has disordered inclinations.” By then, however, too much damage was done, and many LGBT Catholics who had already written off the church as uncaring and judgmental had even more reason to do so.

Catholic sexual morality took on a more distinct political form in the last decade. In 2003, responding to a growing call for the legalization of civil same-sex marriage, the Vatican denounced such unions, saying it found “absolutely no grounds” to support them. Gay rights groups, in turn, denounced the Vatican statement, calling it misdirected and hurtful.

The Catholic institutional church standoff against LGBT people and their supporters and, in turn, their views toward Catholicism, held steady for a decade or more — until July 29, 2013. That was the day Pope Francis, not yet four months into his pontificate, answered a reporter’s question about gay priests in the Vatican, saying: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

Francis’ words quickly defined his pontificate as one that would be less judgmental and more focused on the mercy of God. His humility and pastoral outreach stirred countless millions of Catholics, but landed perhaps most welcomingly among LGBT Catholics.

Part two of this story will be published on Tuesday, March 10.

[Thomas C. Fox is NCR publisher. His email address is tfox@ncronline.org.]

Court rules archdiocese of Milwaukee can’t shield $60 million in abuse cases

March 11, 2015


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I thank Frank Lostaunau for this link.

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Court rules church can’t shield $60 million in abuse cases

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa’s parents and other relatives are buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery Mausoleum in Milwaukee. The court remanded the case to a different district court judge.

By Bruce Vielmetti And Annysa Johnson

March 10, 2015

Rudolph T. Randa

Archdiocese Bankruptcy

The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which faces more than a dozen civil fraud lawsuits over its handling of clergy sex abuse cases, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2011. As the case proceeds, we’ll have updates, analysis, documents and more.

In a blow to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in its ongoing bankruptcy, a federal appeals court on Monday put a $60 million cemetery trust fund back in play to potentially settle claims related to sexual abuse by priests.

The ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the church cannot use the First Amendment or a 1993 law aimed at protecting religious freedom to shield the funds.

The court also said the judge who put the money off limits, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa, should have disclosed the fact his parents and other relatives are buried in a cemetery maintained by the trust fund. The court remanded the case to a different district judge.

“This is a highly momentous day for clergy sex abuse survivors in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, who have suffered terribly since they were abused and have continued to suffer greatly as the archdiocese has gone to great lengths to deny them justice,” said survivors’ attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn.

The decision reinstated the lawsuit filed by the bankruptcy creditors committee to recover what was a $55 million transfer of money by then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan from the archdiocese to a trust for the perpetual care of the church’s cemeteries. The lawsuit claimed that the transfer was a fraudulent attempt to shield the money in anticipation of a bankruptcy filing.

The archdiocese created the Catholic Cemetery Perpetual Care Trust in 2007. The Vatican approved the transfer of funds in 2008. Dolan was named archbishop of New York in 2009 and is now a cardinal. The archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2011.

The church maintained that forcing it to turn over even $1 in cemetery funds to the bankruptcy estate would substantially burden its free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In an affidavit, Archbishop Jerome Listecki stated that he had a canonical duty to properly maintain the church’s cemeteries and mausoleums, and allowing money from the trust to be accessed to settle claims jeopardized the ability to perform that duty — in effect, a violation of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

The application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — which provides that “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” — hinged on whether the creditors committee functioned as an extension of the government. It is appointed by the bankruptcy trustee and is afforded certain powers and responsibilities under the bankruptcy code.

In January 2013, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley ruled on the side of the creditors, saying that taking at least a portion of the cemetery funds would not constitute a substantial burden on the church. The archdiocese appealed to Randa, who found in July 2013 that it would, saying Catholic cemeteries and their proper care play a central role in the Catholic belief in the resurrection of the body after death.

Randa found that the creditors committee, though not strictly a government agency that would normally trigger the religious freedom law, was “acting under color of law” through the bankruptcy proceedings.

No reason to shield

On Monday, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit — Appellate Judges Ann Claire Williams and Joel Flaum, along with U.S. District Judge Robert Dow of the Northern District of Illinois — reversed Randa.

The decision, written by Williams, found that neither the Religious Freedom Restoration Act nor the church’s rights under the First Amendment allowed the money in the trust to be shielded.

The court rejected the argument that the creditors committee was somehow an entity of the government. The court observed that while government creates, funds and hires public defenders, for example, and operates the court system in which they practice, public defenders act only in the interest of their own clients, “essentially a private function.”

The court found the bankruptcy code is designed to represent a “compelling governmental interest in protecting creditors.”

If the bankruptcy code were not a significant interest, the court continued, “It is questionable that the Archdiocese would have subjected itself to this bankruptcy proceeding and the adversary action since there is a very serious danger, from the Archdiocese’s perspective, that it could be compelled to make the (cemetery) funds part of the (bankruptcy) estate.”

The court went out of its way to note that it was not ruling on the legality of the cemetery trust itself, the establishment of the trust or the money in the trust.

However, its decision clears the way for a future court decision on whether fraud occurred in creating the trust and moving archdiocesan money into it.

Further, the creditors committee had asked for a decision on whether Randa should have recused himself from the case. The committee had asked Randa in September 2013 to step aside; he declined.

Because the case will be sent to a different judge, the 7th Circuit did not reach a decision on whether Randa erred in not recusing himself.

But it did note the situation was “problematic.”

“The Committee argues that a reasonable person would question the judge’s impartiality because he would be emotionally attached to the well being of his family members’ resting places,” the ruling read.

“The Archdiocese argues that no reasonable person would “make (that) leap in logic.” “We think it surprising, given this litigation involves cemetery care and strongly held beliefs about the same, that the Archdiocese would give so little weight to the importance of where the deceased are buried.”

‘Critically important’

After the ruling was announced, James Stang, who represents the creditors committee, said: “No longer can religious organizations shield cash and property under the ruse that it is important to their faith. Today’s decision is critically important to survivors of sexual abuse by any religious entity.”

Marci Hamilton, special First Amendment counsel to the committee, stated: “This is a win for survivors of sexual abuse, and for every person or private entity threatened with the federal (or a state) RFRA.”

Timothy Nixon, who represents the cemetery trust and its sole trustee, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, acknowledged disappointment in the decision and said he still believes “the facts, the federal law and the First Amendment clearly support our position.”

“We will give this decision a full review and discuss all options with our client,” he said.

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff of the office of the archbishop, stressed that the archdiocese’s reorganization plan did not hinge on how the court ruled on the cemetery issue.

“With the ruling of the 7th Circuit, Judge Kelley can now move forward with confirming the archdiocese’s plan of reorganization to emerge from Chapter 11,” Topczewski said. “The plan resolves the fight over the cemetery trust to the benefit of abuse survivors and also maintains the sacred commitment to provide perpetual care for those buried in Catholic Cemeteries.”

As part of the proposed plan, the archdiocese would borrow $2 million from the trust to pay a portion of its fees.

About Bruce Vielmetti

Bruce Vielmetti writes about legal affairs.

@ProofHearsay bvielmetti@journalsentinel.com 414-224-2187

About Annysa Johnson

Annysa Johnson is an award-winning reporter covering faith and spirituality in southeastern Wisconsin.

@jsfaithwatch anjohnson@journalsentinel.com 414-224-2061




In a major victory for Milwaukee clergy abuse survivors, 7th Circuit Federal Court rules against Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s transfer of $58 million dollars

March 10, 2015

I received the following news from Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director.

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In a major victory for Milwaukee clergy abuse survivors, 7th
 Circuit Federal Court rules against Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s transfer of $58 million dollars

Decision rejects first amendment argument, opens the door to determine if the Vatican and Dolan constituted the trust for purposes of fraud


Statement by Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director (Milwaukee)

CONTACT:  414.429.7259

Or Mark Salmon, SNAP Milwaukee director 414.712.2092


In a major victory for some 575 victims of childhood rape and sexual assault by dozens of Milwaukee Roman Catholic clergy, the 7thCircuit Federal Court in Chicago ruled this afternoon in a strongly worded statement that a $58 million dollar “cemetery trust” constituted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York while he was Archbishop of Milwaukee is not protected by the first amendment.  The ruling could have major consequences for Dolan and the Vatican, since the court can now determine if the trust was fraudulently created by him and the Vatican before the Archdiocese declared bankruptcy four years ago.

The 7th Circuit overturned a previous decision by controversial Federal Court Judge Rudolph Randa in Milwaukee.  Randa had barred any examination of Dolan’s transfer of the money into a new “cemetery trust” before the archdiocese declared bankruptcy, essentially declaring that so called church “canon law” trumped US Federal Law in constituting the legality of the trust.


In a letter by Dolan to the Vatican seeking permission from the Pope to create the trust, Dolan states that, in part, the trust was being created in order to prevent US courts from compensating victims of clergy sex crimes.  That means the trust was created for purposes of fraud, which would not only return the money back to the Archdiocese to be used to pay creditors in the current bankruptcy but also raises questions of criminal misconduct.


Finally, if Dolan had to seek permission from the Vatican and the Pope (then Benedict XVI) to create the trust, that clearly means that it is the Vatican, and not the Archdiocese of Milwaukee which is ultimately in charge of local church finances.  The upcoming court examination, including the deposition one presumes of Dolan and, logically, top Vatican officials, even Benedict himself, could, for the first time, open the door to the long contested relationship between local bishops and the Vatican, most importantly, in matters of billions of dollars of church money and its deployment in the decades long cover up of abusive priests around the globe.


SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 18,000 members worldwide. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Visit us at SNAPnetwork.org and SNAPwisconsin.com