For immediate release: Wednesday, July 31
Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)
Cardinal Dolan and his colleagues have done what thousands of accused predator priests have done – exploiting legal technicalities instead of relying on the merits in cases involving child sex abuse and cover up.
And Dolan has just won.
Dolan acted legally, a Wisconsin judge says, when he quietly transferred $57 million into a cemetery fund as clergy sex abuse victims began suing.
That doesn't mean, however, that Dolan acted morally. We believe he did not.
There are ways to fight. Some fight fair. Some fight dirty. In this case, Dolan fought dirty. Sadly, he prevailed. And this decision will encourage other church officials to act irresponsibly in the future.
The losers are not just child sex abuse victims. All Wisconsin Catholics have lost here. A judge is telling them “You have no recourse. Your bishop can misuse your donations. And no judge can stop him.”
Had a judge used Sharia law to rule on behalf of a Muslim official accused of hiding funds, there would be an uproar. But that’s basically what’s happened here. This Wisconsin judge has essentially said that internal church or ‘canon’ law trumps secular law. And for that reason, Catholic bishops get to spend their wealth in any way they like, without ever having to be held responsible – or even be questioned – by anyone.
This decision is, in religious circles, what the Citizens United decision is in secular circles – a victory for the wealthy, the secretive and the unaccountable.
Now that this legal chapter is over, we call on Dolan to provide information about Catholic cemeteries across the country. Let parishioners see how Milwaukee’s $57 million cemetery fund compares with funds in other dioceses. Let Catholics decide for themselves, based on real numbers, whether Dolan’s transfer of funds was excessive.
We also call on Dolan to show which state law allegedly required him to transfer these funds.
The First Amendment is a wonderful legal principle. But it can be misused and misinterpreted. That’s what has happened here.
Predator priests often hide behind legal technicalities (like the statute of limitations). That's precisely what Dolan and his peers do (especially with the First Amendment). Instead of behind honest and straightforward, he and his colleagues saw and seized a loophole. That loophole is the reluctance by some judges to intervene in almost any wrongdoing as long as wrongdoers claim it involves religion.
Church officials admit that some 6,200 Catholic priests in the US are admitted, proven or credibly accused child molesters. (The actual number is no doubt much higher, especially if nuns, seminarians and other church employees are included.) They’ve committed hundreds of thousands of child sex crimes. And one reason this horror has happened and keeps happening is because those who commit and conceal heinous crimes do so under the cover of religion.
If we want to prevent kids from being raped and sodomized, we must think critically about the excessive deference we give to those who claim to be religious figures.