Cardinal Dolan Authorized Paying Abusers?

Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times has (yet another) deceptively crafted hit piece on the Catholic Church.


You can read it here.

The piece is headlined:

In Milwaukee Post, Cardinal Authorized Paying Abusers

Not the best headline I've ever read. It left me scratching my head, wondering whether a Cardinal had authorized paying abusers in a newspaper called the Milwaukee Post.

Apparently this isn't even the only headline the article has had, because at the bottom of the column, in tiny, hard-to-read grey print, it says:

A version of this article appeared in print on May 31, 2012, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: Cardinal Authorized Payments To Abusers.

That would have been even more misleading -- implying that the Cardinal (who we soon learn is Cardinal Dolan of New York) was authorizing payments to abusers in New York.

But regardless of where the alleged paying of abusers took place, there is still a further misleading aspect to the headline -- and to the article itself. It is the word "paying."

Consider this: Suppose you are walking down the street and a homeless person approaches you and asks you for some money. You give him the money. Would that justify a headline saying that you have been paying the homeless?

Or suppose you were with your teenage son or daughter and they asked if they could give some money to the homeless person as an act of kindness and you said Yes. Would that justify a headling saying that you authorized paying the homeless?

Or maybe you send your grandchild $20 for his birthday, because he's at that age where he's hard to buy for and what he really wants is money. Have you paid your grandson?

Not all disbursements of money constitute "paying." Gifts, grants, charitable donations, and other forms of transferring money from one person to another do not automatically count as "paying."

By using this word, Goodstein calls to mind certain connotations. Specifically: When we pay someone we typically do so as a fee for some good or service they have provided us with. At a minimum, we do so as some kind of compensation or reward -- things that are not part of the previously-mentioned forms of giving money.

So Goodstein has framed the matter in a way that that suggests Cardinal Dolan was rewarding pedophiles for their behavior.

Was he?

Let's keep reading . . .

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York authorized payments [note the word] of as much as $20,000 to sexually abusive priests as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the priesthood when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee.

Questioned at the time about the news that one particularly notorious pedophile cleric had been given a “payoff[note the word, this time with criminal overtones] to leave the priesthood, Cardinal Dolan, then the archbishop, responded that such an inference was “false, preposterous and unjust.”

If you don't accept Goodstein's account at face value and Google "false, preposterious and unjust" you'll find an account of what happend "at the time," which turns out to be back in 2006. Here's one such account:

Money Given to Clergyman Accused of Sexual Abuse Questioned [they're already off to a better start than the NTY; "Money Given" is a more neutral description than "Paying"]
September 7, 2006

Milwaukee -- A local advocate group for the survivors of sexual abuse from clergy members is questioning a $10,000 payment to a former clergyman accused of sexually abusing young boys.

The Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) released a videotaped deposition Thursday as part of an $18 million settlement last week between nine abuse victims and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The videotape includes a confession by former clergyman Franklyn Becker [Note this name! It's going to be important]. Becker said he was transferred from parish to parish in the 1970s and '80s [during the time of Rembert Weakland, before Cardinal Dolan arrived], despite allegations of sexual encounters with teenage boys. He said he was even posted at parishes with others who shared his desires.

"I was stationed with a classmate of mine who also had a predilection for teenage boys," Becker said on the tape, which was recorded last month.

At one point while still a priest in the 1980s, Becker said he sent for information from the "Man-Boy Love Association," a group advocating sexual relations between men and boys. That led to an FBI investigation.

"I had a visitor from the FBI at my apartment. I was taken aback by it. Well, the only reason was I had heard about the organization, I was curious and had sent for their mailing and was on their mailing list," Becker said. [Uhh . . . right.]

After the arrival of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Becker was removed from active ministry in 2002. [So Dolan, who arrived in 2002, took action on the guy the very year he arrived] He was completely removed from the priesthood in 2004 by Pope John Paul II.

Upon his release from the archdiocese, Becker was given $10,000 to cover expenses until his Medicaid supplements began. [So, according to this account, it wasn't a "payment." But watch how the SNAP regional director is about to spin things . . . ]

Victims' advocates are questioning the money.

"I don't think people donating to the archdiocese are going to be very happy to hear that this man was given any money. For what? He is rewarded. Is it a pension? Is he given a severance? Is this a bonus?" abuse victims' advocate Peter Isely said. [You see the kind of connotations this "payment" language carries.]

Late Thursday, Dolan released a statement in response, writing, "For anyone to assert that this money was a payoff or occurred in exchange for Becker agreeing to leave the priesthood is completely false, preposterous, and unjust. What this was, instead, was an act of charity, in-line with Catholic Social Teaching, that allowed a person to obtain health insurance coverage he simply could not afford on his own. If people want to criticize me for that charity, so be it."

The archbishop maintains the clergy is doing everything possible to prevent clergy sexual abuse in the future.

Becker, who now lives in a Mayville apartment, was never charged with any crime. A number of people came forward years later alleging abuse, and he was arrested a few years ago for a California case, but the statute of limitations had expired in all cases and he was released.

So, according to Cardinal Dolan, this was a humanitarian gesture, not a "payment." If that's his understanding of the event then you can understand how the Cardinal would regard it as "completely false, preposterous, and unjust" for "anyone to assert that this money was a payoff or occurred in exchange for Becker agreeing to leave the priesthood."

But is the understanding Cardinal Dolan displayed of the event in 2006 accurate?

Back to Goodstein . . .

But a document unearthed during bankruptcy proceedings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and made public by victims’ advocates reveals that 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.

A spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed on Wednesday that payments of as much as $20,000 were made to “a handful” of accused priests “as a motivation” not to contest being defrocked. The process, known as “laicization,” is a formal church juridical procedure that requires Vatican approval, and can take far longer if the priest objects.

Okay, so here we have a claim that there is a document (which Goodstein fails to link, so we can't read it for ourselves) that says the archdiocese did make such "payments" (there's that word again). We also have a spokesman seemingly confirming that "payments" (Goodstein's word) were made.

I must say that I don't like the choppy way we are only given six words attributed to this source. I would be very curious to know what he said with more context. I'd also be curious to know the date of the document in question, because if it's after 2002 then it might not apply to the Becker case at all. In that case, Cardinal Dolan's statement regarding the money given to Becker might be entirely accurate, and Goodstein would be entirely misleading by suggesting (apparently) that the Cardinal lied about the Becker case back in 2006.

Or maybe the truth is something else. I can't know from this piece because of how little Goodstein gives us to go on.

But regardless of whether Becker was given money to encourage him to not fight laicization, let's go with the premise that some priests were. Is that a bad thing?

“It was a way to provide an incentive to go the voluntary route and make it happen quickly, and ultimately cost less,” said Jerry Topczewski, the spokesman for the archdiocese. “Their cooperation made the process a lot more expeditious.”


One of the things the SNAP people have been up in arms about is that sex abusers must be ejected from the priesthood as swiftly as possible.

They've also been up in arms about dioceses not having enough money for victims.

So this procedure would (a) get them out of the priesthood faster and (b) leave the diocese with more money for things like compensating victims.

If those are their goals, shouldn't SNAP people approve of such a plan?

What do they want? The diocese to take a long, drawn-out process that keeps sex abusers "enfrocked" for a longer period of time and that leaves less money for victims?

You would kind of think they'd oppose that, too.

So it looks to me like this is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation, where no matter how responsibly you try to handle a situation, SNAP is going to act irrationally and . . . uh . . . snap . . . no matter what.

Also, for what it's worth, Mark Shea points out that the exact same procedure is used to get sexually problematic public school teachers out of their jobs and away from kids.

That's not to say that one should approve of this. One could hold that, in any given case, too much money is being given to get a problematic person, or even that no money should be given and the longer, more expensive route should be taken. 

My point is: This is a judgment call, and it is not unreasonable in principle. A reasonable person can approve this kind of thing. One is not ipso fact irrational or evil for trying to get sexual predators out of their jobs in the fastest, most cost-effective way possible.

Cardinal Dolan, who is president of the national bishops’ conference and fast becoming the nation’s most high-profile Roman Catholic cleric, did not respond to several requests for comment.

Big surprise given Laurie Goodstein's history of unprofessional reporting on the Catholic Church.

A victims advocacy group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, sent a letter of protest to the current archbishop of Milwaukee on Wednesday asking, “In what other occupation, especially one working with families and operating schools and youth programs, is an employee given a cash bonus for raping and sexually assaulting children?”

Ah! SNAP finally gets a mention in Goodstein's article--now that we're toward the bottom of it and despite the fact that the whole story may be based on a press event held by SNAP.

Notice also how they're hyperventilating, portraying the "let's get rid of this guy as fast and cheaply as possible" funds as "cash bonus[es] for raping and sexually assaulting children."

Experts in the Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse say that payouts to dismissed priests are not uncommon. When a man becomes a priest, the church is expected to care for his needs for a lifetime.

Yes, which is one reason why severing ties with a priest is not the same as firing an employee. Priests are united to their bishops in a way that means they are not "at will" employees who can be dismissed at any time. Because a priest stripped of his job is so financially vulnerable there is an internal process that allows a priest to defend himself, and if he chooses to do so then it will (a) take longer and (b) cost more.

The newly revealed document is the minutes of a meeting of the finance council of the Milwaukee archdiocese from March 7, 2003, which Cardinal Dolan attended. The archdiocese was facing a flood of potential lawsuits by people claiming abuse, and the church’s insurance company was refusing to cover the costs because it said the church had been negligent. The minutes noted that “unassignable priests” — those suspected of abuse — were still receiving full salaries.



So after Dolan had already removed Becker from pastoral ministry. Maybe Cardinal Dolan's account of the event was entirely accurate after all and the NYT pieces unjustly implied he was lying? What do you think, Laurie?

The minutes say that those at the meeting discussed a proposal to “offer $20,000 for laicization ($10,000 at the start and $10,000 at the completion the process).” Instead of salary, they would receive a $1,250 monthly pension benefit, and, until they found another job, health insurance.

One might disagree with this, or these figures, but it doesn't sound irrationally evil to me.

BTW, you remember how I said to remember the name "Franklyn Becker" because it'd be important? Here's why . . .

The first known payment in Milwaukee was to Franklyn Becker, a former priest with many victims. Cardinal Dolan said in response to a reporter’s question at the time that the payment was “an act of charity,” so that Mr. Becker could pay for health insurance.

According to church documents, Mr. Becker was accused of abusing at least 10 minors, and given a diagnosis of pedophilia in 1983. The church paid more than $16 million to settle lawsuits involving him and one other priest.

Whoa! Laurie!

You introduced us to Franklyn Becker back in the second paragraph of your story -- only you didn't name him then.

Now, in the next-to-next-to-last paragraph, you introduce him again as if he is an entirely different person! You also don't reveal that the claim Cardinal Dolan made regarding it being an act of charity so that Becker could have health coverage was, in fact, the very same statement that you quoted earlier in which he dismissed the "payoff" idea as "false, preposterous, and unjust."

This is unprofessional reporting no matter how you look at it, Laurie.

Either you have (a) inadvertently caused your readers to think (unless they fact-check you like I did) that the initial "notorious pedophile" from paragraph 2 of your story is an entirely different person than the "Franklyn Becker" you introduce in paragraph 11 or (b) you have deliberately done this in some kind of attempt to make Cardinal Dolan look worse by multiplying the cases against him and splitting up the facts relevant to this single case so that the reader cannot make an informed judgment.

Either way, shame on you. 

The Milwaukee Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2011, in the face of potential lawsuits by 23 accusers.

And you wonder why they'd want to conserve money when possible in the wake of the disastrous Weakland era.

Like I said, I'm not saying one needs to agree with the actions taken by Cardinal Dolan when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee. These things involve judgment calls, and rational people of good will can judge them differently.

But what Goodstein did was unprofessional -- at best -- and a rational person could easily view it as a malicious hit piece. 

I wonder what one of her possible motives might be?

What do you think?