Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Nicholas P. CafardiJune 06, 2012

I have sometimes criticized the behavior of bishops in their handling of the child sex abuse crisis, but I cannot agree with the criticism of Cardinal Dolan currently being made, regarding the payments that the Milwaukee archdiocese made to malefactor priests for their cooperation in the “laicization,” really dismissal from the clerical state, process.

By some accounts, the Milwaukee archdiocese, under then Archbishop Dolan, paid these priests the sum of $20,000 to agree to seek voluntary “laicization.”  As the New York Times reported, “the archdiocese did make such payments to multiple accused priests to encourage them to seek dismissal, thereby allowing the church to remove them from the payroll.”

Note that last phrase—“to remove them from the payroll.” That is the critical phrase here. Every priest, even a priest under suspension, awaiting a canonical trial for child sexual abuse, has the right to support from the diocese. The 1983 Code of Canon Law says this in numerous places - Canon 281, Canon 384, Canon 1350.

This is sometimes called the right to “sustenance,” and it remains the right of the priest unless and until he is dismissed from the clerical state, something that can happen adversarially in a canonical judicial process, or something that can happen administratively at the priest’s request.

But until the dismissal is effective, the diocese has the obligation to provide, and the priest has this right to receive, financial support.  With these canonical facts in mind, let’s hypothesize. Let’s lowball monthly support at $800 a month. That’s $9,600 a year. An adversarial canonical process, with appeals, could easily take two years. So the Milwaukee archdiocese under Dolan agreed to pay these malefactor priests two years of sustenance up front for their cooperation in a brief administrative process that would lead to their dismissal from the clerical state, and, importantly, end the diocese’s financial obligations to them under the Code of Canon Law. In an adversarial process, which was the accused priests’ right, they would have received the $20,000 anyhow, during the time it took for the process to run its course.

So, there is a clear explanation in church law for what Archbishop Dolan did. I don’t mean, with this explanation, to deal with other critical issues, like—were these men reported to the authorities? Did this quick process in any way help them to cover up what they did and go on to abuse? Since all of this happened under the Dallas Norms, and those Norms require reporting these men to the civil authorities, I am hoping that the answer to both of those questions is no, that the Norms were followed, that the civil authorities followed up, and that these former priests are on Meghan’s lists wherever they have gone.

I can criticize Cardinal Dolan for a few things—his semi-endorsement of the Ryan budget, the quasi-political rally he had at the cathedral in Milwaukee for Scott Walker in the middle of the recall campaign. But that just makes him partisan; it doesn’t make him someone who aids and abets child abuse. Far from it.

Nicholas P. Cafardi


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
David Pasinski
11 years 4 months ago
Thank you, Professor Cafardi, for your insights, However, it seems to me the core problem was perhaps not the finances of the "buy out," but the denial and blustering and cover-up the cardinal perpetrated about it. It does not seem to me that he has as yet truly come clean and whatever he's said has largely been perceived - and I believe, intended - as some form of obfuscation and denial. He's apparently embarrassed about what it SEEMS ;ike and forfeits a great deal of credibility with this approach.

Perhaps asking men to leave wiith provisions in place about reporting, etc. can be fiscally - and qustionably, morally- justified, but why not tell the truth???

Also, I did not know about his Mass in Milwaukee at this sensitive time. Whatever the details, it seems impolitic at best and stupid and partisan at worst.
11 years 4 months ago
Dolan's Milwaukee policy may well have removed predator priests from the church payroll, but it ''set them loose'' in the larger society without oversight to possibly/probably/likely abuse again. Not exactly leaven for the realm of God in the world!
Judy Jones
11 years 4 months ago
quoted: "The 1983 Code of Canon Law says this in numerous places - Canon 281, Canon 384, Canon 1350."

Does Cafardi know that canon law does not mean a 'hill of beans' when it comes to committing sex crimes against innocent kids, and covering up those crimes?
It is pretty clear that the Milwaukee Archdiocese needs to be investigated by law enforcement, as has happened in the Philly Archdiocese. The big issue here, is the Dolan lied...! So, what else is he lying about.?

How on earth does he think that victims feel when they see that child predator priests have been paid off or given so called 'charity".... when these victims are hurting so badly from being treated like 'non' people..?
Those child predator priests should have been fired and sent directly to the police. Child predators can never be allowed near children, ever...!

Judy Jones, SNAP
David Pasinski
11 years 4 months ago
"If you were the parent of an abuesd boy perhaps you would not think that a $20,000 payment to the accuser was 'charity.'" The ever acerbic Maureen Dowd correctly writes in today's NYT.
That's such a good and basic point- perception, not some obtuse cannonically reasonaed, actuarial reality. PERHAPS it was cheaper and more efficacious to do this rather than the painstaking and not always successful process of laicization, but that its the antiquated canonical law problem within the institution. To most others and not without reason, it's "take the money and get out of town." For Dolan to have called this "charity"is a "newsspeak" use of the word and stains him and the much worthy "Catholic charities" that he would support. 

Also, I'm curious abuot he Archdiocesan or Milwaukee policy with priest who have been in good standing, have many years of service, and choose to marry, Do they get any severance or "charity" or just those who are the " troubled"  who'd they rather get rid of? 
David Clohessy
11 years 4 months ago
Here's the real problem in a nutshell:
1) In 2002, after pledging to be ''open & transparent'' about clergy sex crimes, Dolan secretly paid predator priests.
2) In 2006, when confronted about it by a reporter, he lied.
3) For six years, Dolan let his deception stand uncorrected.
4) Last month, when confronted with a clear memo showing the payments, he kept silent.
5) On Sunday, Dolan finally responded, repeating his ''charity'' lie, and attacking the New York Times and our group.
If Dolan thinks this is the right approach - secretly paying admitted, serial predator priests to quietly move elsewhere among unsuspecting families, neighbors and co-workers, why didn't he say so in 2003 or why won't he say so now?
David Clohessy
Executive Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street               
St. Louis MO 63143               
314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
David Pasinski
11 years 4 months ago
Thank you, David Clohessy, for succinct and non-polemic description of the apparent situation.
Judy Jones
11 years 4 months ago
"Archdiocesan or Milwaukee policy with priest who have been in good standing, have many years of service, and choose to marry, Do they get any severance or "charity"?

Good question, I know of many good priests who left to get married,or to just get out..
Wish some of them would come forward to let the public know if they got any severence or charity..

Thomas Piatak
11 years 4 months ago
Professor Cafardi's analysis is correct.

Nor did Cardinal Dolan lie.  What Cardinal Dolan said was that the payments were not a "payoff."  Lawyers settle actual and potential lawsuits all the time.  They do not refer to the monetary compensation paid in connection with such settlements as "payoffs," nor do they think of them as such.

Moreover, Cardinal Dolan's comments in 2006 concerned payments that were made to one particular priest, Franklyn Becker, following an involuntary laicization for health care.  This fact was obscured to in the New York Times story, which quoted what Dolan said about this one priest, never informed its readers that Dolan's comments referred to this one priest, and then juxtaposed those comments with records relating to payments to other priests.  So far as I can tell, Dolan's recent comments merely criticize the New York Times story, which was clearly flawed.

Finally, I would note that SNAP's characterization of these payments, as "a cash bonus for raping and assaulting children," is outrageous and contemptible.  No reasonable person thinks that these payments were authorized to reward such behavior.
David Pasinski
11 years 4 months ago
I agree with Tom that that he last statement of SNAP's was at least hyperbollic and incorrect.

Howwever, his second point I disagree with. Whether or not lawyers think of them as "payoffs" is irrelevant. To most of us, it sure looks like a payoff. And I'll bet it would even more if you were the parents of a child abused,

I think the testimony from Milwaukee refutes much of what Dolan said,
I don't see how anyone could think he was doing at least hair=splitting, sputtering, and obfuscating.

The latest from america

A Homily for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, by Father Terrance Klein
Terrance KleinOctober 04, 2023
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, leaves the floor of the U.S. House floor after being ousted as speaker on Oct. 3. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)
There is a deeper problem than the chaos in the U.S. House: the question of what a government is for, and how it is to function beyond matters that a bare majority can vote through.
Sam Sawyer, S.J.October 04, 2023
Pope Francis did not attend Vatican II, but from the beginning of his pontificate, he set out with determination to continue its implementation.
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 04, 2023
I have spent the better part of the past two years trying to understand what synodality is. Today, it finally started to click.
Zac DavisOctober 04, 2023