For a time Monday, it was difficult to access the Milwaukee Archdiocese website. It stalled, after the church released 6,000 pages of documents detailing its response to clergy sex abuse allegations, spanning decades.
Apparently, a lot of people wanted to peruse the files. The Archdiocese made the documents public, as part of its bankruptcy case. Among those getting quite a bit of attention, were those involving former Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
The documents reveal that now New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan sought to pay off and push problem clergy out of the priesthood to avoid further scandal, after sexual abuse victims began coming forward in 2002.
Members of SNAP - Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, describe themselves as shocked over a letter Dolan wrote the Vatican in 2007.
Peter Isely is Midwest director of SNAP. He says the letter asked for permission to move $57 million into a trust as the Archdiocese began to move toward bankruptcy. The Vatican granted the request.
“A letter posted today with these documents proves to us that Cardinal Timothy Dolan who was supposed to be the pastor and shepherd of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and especially to victims of childhood sexual abuse, to whom he made to us direct promises that he was going to be truthful and that he was going to bring healing to this Archdiocese, today’s 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,” Isely says.
Isely calls Dolan’s actions deeply disappointing and called on U. S. Attorney James Santelle to investigate Dolan for bankruptcy fraud.
Cardinal Dolan in his blog Monday denied that the transfer of funds was an effort to shield money from legal claims.
We were not able to connect with archdiocesan leaders for comment. However, they released a statement saying the money was always set aside in a separate fund for cemetery care – and moving it to a trust was a formality.
What John Pilmaier says he finds disturbing, is a message current Archbishop Jerome Listecki released over the weekend to church members. Pilmaier is Wisconsin director of SNAP.
“One of the things he said in reference to the release of the documents is that they’re doing this because of their commitment to transparency and to healing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They have spent years and years fighting this day. This day was never supposed to happen. They spent millions of dollars in court to prevent the public from ever seeing these documents,” Pilmaier says.
Pilmaier called on Catholic Church members to read the files. We asked several people attending Mass at Old St. Mary Church in downtown Milwaukee if they intended to look over the documents. Delia Caceres says she has not yet had time, but supports the church and prays for the accused priests.
“I think it’s sad the priests have done that. The Bible says you know how to treat others but they are human just like us. They make mistakes,” Caceres says.
Caceres says the revelations do not undermine her faith in the church. Richard Burzynski thinks it will eventually be able to move on from the sexual abuse crisis.
“God said his church will last forever and I believe that. This is a stumbling block but that’s all it is. The church will survive,” Burzynski says.
Burzynski says he has no problem with the Archdiocese releasing the documents.