The documents demonstrate yet again that the Catholic church is more concerned with its money and reputation than children
On Monday, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee released 6,000 pages of documents pertaining to the church’s handling of decades of allegations of child sex abuse by priests. In a blog post on his website, the current archbishop of Milwaukee, Jerome Listecki, said he hoped that by “voluntarily making the documents public” they will help abuse victims and their families to understand the past, review the present and allow the church to move forward. The documents certainly offer a unique insight into the past and present, but are far more likely to confirm what survivors have long suspected: that the church is far more interested in protecting its assets and reputation than it was or is in protecting them.
It would be nice to think that the disclosure indicates a new willingness by the church to be more transparent and open about its handling of sex abuse within its ranks, but Archbishop Listecki’s claim that the documents were released “voluntarily” appears to be something of a misrepresentation at best. According to Jeff Anderson, an attorney who has been working with many abuse survivors, the archdiocese only “volunteered” to release the documents (after years of fighting to keep them sealed) on the eve of a judicial hearing in bankruptcy court was likely to have compelled them to do so.
In 2011, facing 575 cases of abuse filed against them, the Milwaukee archdiocese initiated bankruptcy proceedings, prompting claims by victims’ lawyers that the move was simply an attempt to avoid having to pay compensation. Some explosive disclosures in the released documents add quite a bit of substance to these claims.
In 2007 Cardinal Tim Dolan, then acting archbishop of Milwaukee, wrote to the Vatican requesting permission to move over $56mn in assets to a cemetery trust fund. The letter included this nugget:
“By transferring these assets to the trust, I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”
Dolan has always denied attempting to protect church funds from legal claims during his reign as archbishop but in a statement released on Monday, he dismissed the new disclosures, first reported in the New York Times, as merely efforts by some “to raise old and discredited attacks”.
On the contrary it would appear that these old attacks on his credibility were substantiated by the contents of his own letter (and by the Vatican’s prompt acquiescence to the fund transfer request that he made). It does not help Dolan’s case that the letter was written just over a month before an anticipated Wisconsin supreme court ruling that held that victims of clerical sex abuse should not have had their cases dismissed on (the very narrow) statute of limitation grounds without having first considered whether the archdiocese had fraudulently concealed its knowledge of abuse by certain priests.
This is where the documents get really interesting and potentially damaging to the church, which has long been accused by victims and others of opting to cover up and conceal criminal behavior within its ranks rather than reporting it. In Kistecki’s blog post about his “voluntary” decision to release the documents, he writes that “news about this topic can shake one’s faith” and warns anyone who chooses to review the material should “prepare to be shocked”.
He is right. The accounts of repeated abuse by so many priests in the archdiocese, sometimes over decades does shock and shake one’s faith in humanity. What is even more shocking, however, was the churches apparently unflinching ability to turn a blind eye to the point where some serial and known abusers continued to enjoy the financial support of the church even after being criminally convicted and many others never faced criminal charges.
One particularly disturbing case is that of Daniel Budzynski, a former priest who served from 1956 until he was (involuntarily) laicized in 2005. During his tenure as a priest, he has been accused of sexually abusing or assaulting around 50 children ranging in age from 7 to 16 in 11 different parishes. In his 2011 deposition, Budzynski reports being told in 1971 by one of his superiors after allegations of abuse began to emerge against him “Danny, you know, watch yourself”. The abuse continued, however, despite this rebuke if you can call it that. At numerous times during his career, he was encouraged by his superiors to get treatment for his alcoholism and psychosexual problems.
After each bout of treatment he was either reassigned or returned to his parish, which was never informed about the dangers he evidently posed to children. In 1994, when more allegations were mounting up against him, he actually admitted to three superiors to having committed multiple acts of sexual abuse of minors, but despite his admission of guilt, his crimes were not reported to law enforcement. Budzynski retired in 1995, but continued to do help out for several more years. His decades of child abuse were finally reported by then archbishop Dolan to District Attorney Michael McCann in 2002, but he has yet to be criminally prosecuted.
To Dolan’s credit, it was he who finally petitioned for Budzynski’s removal from the church in 2003 via a letter to then Cardinal Ratzinger (a mere 40 years after the first allegations of abuse surfaced). The credit is somewhat tarnished, however, by Dolan’s apparent concern about victims mobilizing and the potential for scandal.
“Our new found awareness of the severity of damage caused by sexual abuse at the hands of clergy makes it impossible for us to ignore this situation. As victims organize and become more public, the potential for true scandal is very real.”
The cardinal also writes that “the impact on his (Budzynski’s) various victims has been significant”, but what he fails to acknowledge or even allude to in that letter is the church’s role in enabling Budzynski’s abuse by failing to alert their parishioners to the danger they knew he posed or to report him to authorities.
This is probably the biggest takeaway from the 6,000 pages of documents released this week. The church seems to understand very clearly how costly and damaging sex abuse scandals are to its reputation and to its bank account. When it comes to protecting both of those, the institution is capable of acting swiftly and determinedly. When it comes to facing up to its role as silent enablers of abuse and to compensating victims for the damage done to the lives, however, the church has a long way to go.
Source: The Guardian