Lawyers Question New York Cardinal in Milwaukee Suits
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN Published: February 20, 2013
A week before Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan is set to leave New York for Rome, where his name is being floated as a candidate for pope, he was questioned in Manhattan for three hours on Wednesday behind closed doors in a legal deposition concerning the sexual abuse of children by priests.
The lawyers deposing Cardinal Dolan represent hundreds of people who say they were sexually molested by priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which he led for seven years before his appointment as archbishop of New York in 2009. The lawyers want to know when Cardinal Dolan, as archbishop of Milwaukee, learned of allegations against certain priests, and how quickly he made those allegations public.
Cardinal Dolan is one of two American cardinals who are being deposed in sexual abuse lawsuits this week, and who plan to travel to Rome next week in advance of the proceedings to elect the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who announced last week that he was resigning Feb. 28.
The other American is Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles. He is expected to be deposed on Saturday in Los Angeles, and he has been under fire since the court-ordered release last month of 12,000 pages of internal church files revealing his role in shielding accused priests from the law.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, said that Cardinal Dolan had cooperated fully with the deposition.
“Today Cardinal Dolan had the long-awaited opportunity to talk about his decision nine years ago in Milwaukee to publicize the names of priests who had abused children and how he responded to the tragedy of past clergy sexual abuse of minors, during the time he was privileged to serve as Archbishop of Milwaukee,” Mr. Zwilling said in a statement. “He has indicated over the past two years that he was eager to cooperate in whatever way he could, and he was looking forward to talking about the good work and progress that took place to ensure the protection of children and pastoral outreach to victims.”
Cardinal Dolan has been much discussed as a possible candidate for pope. The cardinal, who is the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a charismatic figure at ease in parishes as well as in morning talk show studios, and he left a strong impression in the Vatican last year with speeches promoting what the church calls the “new evangelization.”
But in New York, he has been dogged by the legal cases in Milwaukee. His successor, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, had the archdiocese declare bankruptcy in 2011, saying that it would be the best way to compensate all the victims and for the church to move forward. Milwaukee was the eighth Catholic diocese in the United States to seek bankruptcy protection because of abuse lawsuits.
In the Milwaukee Archdiocese, 575 people have filed claims saying that they were abused, over many decades, by Catholic clergymen. About 70 said they were victims of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who, church records show, admitted having molested deaf students at a boarding school outside Milwaukee, said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in St. Paul who represents 350 of the 575 plaintiffs.
Bankruptcy negotiations fell apart last year when the archdiocese argued that many of the 575 cases were invalid. Frank LoCocco, the lawyer for the Milwaukee Archdiocese and Cardinal Dolan, said the cases were beyond Wisconsin’s statute of limitations, or the plaintiffs had already received settlements, or the accused were not employed by the archdiocese.
Lawyers for the victims argue that previous archbishops, including Cardinal Dolan, intentionally stalled and kept allegations quiet so that the cases would fall beyond the statute.
Mr. Anderson, who questioned Cardinal Dolan on Wednesday, said he had already deposed a former Milwaukee archbishop, Rembert G. Weakland, and Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba.
“The deposition of Cardinal Dolan is necessary to show that there’s been a longstanding pattern and practice to keep secrets and keep the survivors from knowing that there had been a fraud committed,” Mr. Anderson said.
The Milwaukee Archdiocese said recently that it had spent $9 million in legal fees. Creditors accuse the archdiocese, under Archbishop Dolan, of shielding $55 million in a cemetery trust. The archdiocese argued that those assets had been set aside for Catholic burials by Archbishop Dolan’s predecessors.