Once Again, Catholic Officials Exposed for Shielding Assets instead of Helping the Victims They Created
In a story that should surprise absolutely no one, Catholic officials in New York apparently used sneaky and underhanded transfers of cash and assets in order to protect their pile of gold after the passage of New York’s Child Victims Act. Given that this has been the modus operandi of the Church for years, this article is as expected as it is disturbing.
It is hard to miss the fact that the Catholic Church appears to be just as intent on deceiving parishioners and the public about their financial health as they were on deceiving them by quietly hiding and transferring abusive priests around the world. While this piece only refers to New York dioceses, it appears that a financial playbook is being used nationwide. Even sadder is the fact that these methods seem to work – Church officials are able to hide their secrets in bankruptcy court just the way they hide their money in cemetery funds. There must be reform in the way that bankruptcy is handled to reverse the popularity of these underhanded tactics and ensure that survivors are treated fairly and communities are informed about abusers within their midst.
It is notable that the Church was protecting its money at the same time it was burning through cash in attempts to lobby against the CVA. This shows that they were preparing to use the bankruptcy route to deny victims justice and transparency even before a single lawsuit rolled in. We firmly believe that the way the Church abuses bankruptcy court to keep survivor testimony and the names of abusers and enablers secret and to limit survivor compensation is a loophole that must be closed by Congress. We hope that this story will inspire legislators to act.
We cannot help but focus on the fact that the Church has used increasingly creative methods to protect their money and reputations, whether through the creation and sale of insurance companies, applying for tax-free PPP loans without needing them, or raiding funds earmarked for the impoverished. In these ways, the Church double-dips the American taxpayers, first by paying no taxes of their own, second by abusing taxpayer-funded programs that were not meant for them, and third by refusing to bear the economic burden created by abuse within their parishes and other facilities. According to CHILD USA, the lifetime economic impact of one case of child sexual abuse is $850,000, so given current victim counts in the US, that means the burden created by the Catholic Church on national resources is nearly $21 billion and growing by the day.
Imagine if Church officials had spent that brainpower and energy on finding ways to rip the bandage off, come clean about the true extent of clergy abuse and cover-up, and spend millions, not on lobbyists, but prevention educators, social workers, and therapists. So much more good could have been done with this money, especially given how our country has become more aware and educated about the realities of sexual abuse in recent years. For most Americans, it is no longer inconceivable that a priest could abuse a child, it is daily news.
We are grateful to the Times Union for covering this scandal in such detail and hope that this important work inspires legislators, advocates, and survivors across the country to speak up about needed reforms that will better protect children, now and into the future. Now it is incumbent on the federal government to open a national investigation like those in the UK, Australia, Canada, and other countries. This investigation must begin with the true scope and impact of religious abuse, the abuse of financial and court systems, and should end with the removal of tax benefits for this international corporation that is hellbent on protecting itself at all costs.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)