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.
Alex Gibney’s ‘Mea Maxima Culpa’: Sex, Lies, and the Catholic Church
Feb 4, 2013 4:45 AM EST
The Daily Beast spoke with Gibney about Pope Benedict XVI’s culpability in the scandal, the church’s policy of forced celibacy, and a backlash of criticism of his film from a prominent victims’ group.
The Daily Beast: Explain the title of the film.
Gibney: There’s a point in mass when you beat your chest three times and say “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” In my day, it was translated “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” That seemed to me a pretty good title for the film. It’s followed by the subtitle Silence in the House of God, which has a double meaning in this context, both because of the deaf survivors and the crimes that the church was silently overseeing.
The story of sex abuse in the Catholic Church has been told in a number of other recent documentary films. Why retell the story?
There were two things: this local case, the Milwaukee case, uncovered documents that lead straight to the top, straight to Joseph Ratzinger—then-cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. So you could see this sex-abuse crisis not as a few bad apples, but evidence of a rotten barrel. The other thing was, for all the darkness about this story, it was oddly inspirational for me. These guys at the heart of the story, these deaf men, mounted the very first public protest of clerical sex abuse in the United States. This is a case where a priest abused 200 deaf children. What more heinous crime could you imagine? But the victims, who were so marginalized because they couldn’t speak to a hearing audience, nevertheless managed to have a huge impact—from a small parish in Milwaukee all the way to the top of the Vatican.
You point out in the film that the same thing—Catholic priests assaulting deaf children—happened in Verona, Italy. Was this deliberate strategy, to attack children who were even more defenseless than the average child?
I think you have to see it as pure predatory behavior. We can accept that there are predators everywhere—Boy Scouts, Penn State—but what the Catholic Church is clearly responsible for is harboring those predators, not punishing them, moving them around [to other parishes]. For a long time, the church has said that clerical sex abuse could either be blamed on the 1960s or the United States—the licentiousness of the country, that’s the problem. We didn’t know about the Verona case when we started the film. It was an exact parallel to the case in Milwaukee. The priests “reach out” to those deaf students because they are helpless. In fact, we found out in Milwaukee that the priests particularly sought out kids whose parents could not sign. So the predator priest (who could sign) was actually an intermediary between the kids and their parents. Horrible.
There is a bit in the film about forced celibacy. But these priests aren’t seeing prostitutes. And we see this happening, for instance, in the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn right now. Is there something particular to the church here? Is there something about religion that allows this to happen?
What’s peculiar about the Roman Catholic Church is that at the heart of its doctrine is a lie—the lie of forced celibacy. One of the former priests … did a study for the church to try to understand the sex lives of priests and found that over 50 percent of priests, that he could ascertain, were not observing celibacy. So that leads to a system of secrecy and blackmail, a kind of protective quality, with anything that has to do with sexuality. So as a result, I think that predators intuitively or instinctively sought out an environment like that.
Do you think that if the rules on celibacy were loosened, this would change things considerably?
I do think in the Catholic Church that if you take away forced celibacy, you take away the inherent hypocrisy and secrecy at the heart of the institution. I think forced celibacy is idiotic. I believe that you can choose to be celibate and that you can train people to be celibate. But if you eliminate forced celibacy, I think you’d eliminate the issues that compel priests to abuse or to keep quiet about the abuse.
You say that Pope Ratzinger and the former Pope John Paul knew this was happening and covered it up in a Joe Paterno kind of way.
I don’t see Ratzinger as a monster. I see him as a deeply flawed human being who aided and abetted criminality. I think he is offended by men who abuse their power by abusing children. He says he is disgusted by [the abuse], and I believe him. But he lives within this institution, with this group of men who exist between mortals and the angels, and he favors protecting the institution to protecting the children. That to me is his great crime. It makes him weak, and, ultimately, I think it makes him a criminal.
One victims group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), criticized the film for it sympathetic treatment of former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who himself was embroiled in scandal and accused of ignoring sexual abuse in the church. What do you make of their criticism?
The criticism from the SNAP people, with regards to Archbishop Weakland, was that I was too easy on him, that he was a malefactor also, that he didn’t do nearly enough … They would argue that he aided and abetted crimes by pedophile priests. That may be so. He was a guy who was valuable for a number of reasons. He had a personal connection to Ratzinger—he knew him—and at some moment in time, say what you will about what he had done previously, he tried to do something for those victims. Whether it was a conversion for him or whether it was this particular case because they were deaf children, he sensed that justice needed to be done. So I didn’t want to vilify him. He was also a very famous liberal priest, in terms of economic justice and so forth. In a film like this you can only show so much crime. I left out some stuff about Ratzinger in the film too. The fact is, [Ratzinger] moved pedophile priests around when he was archbishop of Munich. So much depravity, so little time.
We joke around the office that our films are pretty bleak; we make films that make people sick. The thing about Mea Maxima Culpa is that towards the end of the film there is actually a moment of hope and inspiration. These deaf men worked so hard at such odds to have their voices heard. And in some fundamental way they did. They loosed documents that let us understand the magnitude of this crime. It’s an inspiring thing, what they did. And that give me a boost. There was a little bit of bright light in the dark tunnel.