Regional
3:20 pm
Wed July 3, 2013

Reporter: Few New Details in Milwaukee Archdiocese Papers

The Milwaukee archdiocese released hundreds of documents related to the clergy sex abuse cases - did they really contain bombshells?

A religion reporter weighs in on whether the released documents contain new information about what the Catholic Church knew.
A religion reporter weighs in on whether the released documents contain new information about what the Catholic Church knew.
Credit Eric Chan/Flickr

Though the recent release of documents related to the clergy sex abuses cases in the Milwaukee Archdiocese has gotten national attention, one religion reporter says they don't contain the smoking gun some victim advocates are hoping for.

“We were led to believe by Archbishop Listecki’s letter that Catholics – it might shake their faith – be prepared to be scandalized," says religion writer Marie Rohde. "I think you’d have to have been living in a cave not to realize a lot of this was going on.”

Earlier this week, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee released 6,000 pages of documents, before a lawyer representing victims could get a judge to compel their release.

The documents brought to light many instances of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests and what measures, if any, the church took as those allegations were first brought forward.

Rohde says the documents do contain more details about cases that hadn't previously gotten much coverage. She also notes the documents show there was debate over what age constitutes adulthood: the Vatican said 16-years-old, whereas state law says 18.

She says the other noteworthy revelation involved then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan's request that the Church transfer $57 million to the diocesan cemetery fund, so the money couldn’t be tapped into by victims seeking compensation. The New York Times reported that Dolan says these were parish – not archdiocesan - funds.

But advocates for victims of sexual abuse, such as Peter Isley of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), seized on the revelation as evidence of wrongdoing.

"Cardinal Timothy Dolan, when he was here in Milwaukee...made to us direct promises that he was going to be truthful and that he was going to bring healing to this archdiocese," Isley says. "(The) document, especially the letter he wrote to the Vatican, proves that he set up the cemetery trust to shield those assets from victim survivors and in doing so, committed fraud."

But Rohde, who covered this latest chapter for the National Catholic Reporter, says those who have been closely following the Milwaukee church's sexual abuse story wouldn't be surprised by these details. Rohde is also a former religion reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.