Priests paid to leave

Newly released documents include correspondence with clergy accused of sex abuse
Associated Press
Jul 1, 2013


As more victims of clergy sex abuse came forward, then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan oversaw a plan to pay some abusers to leave the priesthood after writing to Vatican officials with increasing frustration and concern, warning them about the potential for scandal if they did not defrock problem priests, according to documents released Monday.

Dolan's correspondence with Vatican officials and priests accused of sexual abuse was included in about 6,000 pages of documents the Archdiocese of Milwaukee released Monday as part of a deal reached in federal bankruptcy court with clergy sex abuse victims suing it for fraud. Victims say the archdiocese transferred problem priests to new churches without warning parishioners and covered up priests' crimes for decades.

The documents have drawn attention in part because of the involvement of Dolan, who is now a cardinal and New York archbishop and the nation's most prominent Roman Catholic official by virtue of his position as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The records provide new details on payments made to some abusers to leave the priesthood and the transfer of nearly $57 million for cemetery care into a trust as the archdiocese prepared to file for bankruptcy.

Victims and their attorneys accused Dolan of bankruptcy fraud, pointing to a June 2007 letter in which he told a Vatican office that moving the money into a trust would provide "an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability."

Church law requires bishops to seek Vatican approval for any property sale or asset transfer in the millions of dollars. Dolan wrote in the letter that the transfer had been approved by archdiocese's Financial Council and College of Consultors.

A Vatican office approved the transfer within a month. Jeff Anderson, an attorney for many victims, compared that to the long lag in responses to defrock abusive priests.

"These documents show that if they want to move money to protect it from survivors they can act quick as a fox," Anderson said. "If they want to protect kids, if they have full knowledge of kids in peril, they keep it secret while the Vatican drags its feet and children are kept at peril."

In a statement, Dolan called any suggestion he was trying to shield money from victims an "old and discredited" attack. Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for current Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said the money was always set aside in a separate fund for cemetery care and moving it to a trust just formalized that.

Peter Isely, Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he would ask the U.S. attorney's office in Milwaukee to look into the possibility of bankruptcy fraud. However, Marquette University law professor Ralph Anzivino, a bankruptcy specialist, said no criminal charges could be filed unless the bankruptcy judge determined the transfer amounts to fraud.

The documents also show that Dolan repeatedly wrote to Vatican officials, pleading with them to dismiss priests accused of abuse but often was left waiting for years for a response. One of those cases involved John C. Wagner, who was accused of making advances to students at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan when he was in campus ministry in the 1980s. Dolan's predecessor, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, tried in the 1990s to get Wagner to voluntarily leave the priesthood but Wagner refused.

In 2005, as settlements with clergy sex abuse victims were piling up, Dolan wrote to the Vatican office in charge of the matter and recommended it kick Wagner out.

"The liability for the Archdiocese is great as is the potential for scandal if it appears that no definitive action has been taken," Dolan wrote to Archbishop Angelo Amato, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Wagner showed no remorse, Dolan wrote, "His only concern has been his financial status."

Dolan said that if the Vatican agreed to dismiss Wagner, an archdiocese fund could pay for his needs until he was eligible for a pension. Dolan didn't receive a response until 2008, when he re-submitted his request along with details of new allegations against Wagner.

"The liability for the Archdiocese is great, as is the potential for scandal if it appears that no definitive action has been taken," he wrote. "Our new found awareness of the severity of damage caused by sexual abuse at the hands of clergy makes it impossible for us to ignore this situation or allow any longer the unresolved nature of this case."

Amato then recommended Dolan ask Wagner to leave voluntarily, which Dolan did. Wagner's attorney rejected the request, saying the $20,000 payment that Dolan offered wouldn't cover the priest's expenses for the two years until his retirement. Wagner wasn't officially defrocked until 2012.

A working telephone number for him could not be found Monday, and he did not immediately respond to an email message.

Topczewski said the archdiocese had had a practice of paying priests leaving the priesthood for years before Dolan took over. Most of them were not accused of wrongdoing, and the money helped them transition into their new lives, he said.

At least three priests accused of sexual abuse received payments when they left the priesthood before Dolan's arrival, according to the documents. Six more left under Dolan, accepting the archdiocese's offer of $10,000 when they voluntarily agreed to leave the priesthood and another $10,000 when Vatican officials announced their decision about the priest's future.

Topczewski said the money covered the men's health care, but it also got "priests out quicker. That's what victims were asking for."



dorothy gale

Above the law, just like politicians and police officers.


Not one law !


Sad but true dorothy gale.

Home Boy

NOT above the law. The problem is....where is the law? As a Catholic, I believe they should be prosecuted. The law is failing us all.


If they want to play with boys then send them to prison where they can play all they want.

God Of Thunder

Double standard...Just like the catholic church has always been. They don't approve of divorce, gay marriage, or abortion, but they certainly don't do anything to protect people from these pedophiles..In fact, they pay them on the way out as they 'force' them out... Oh, I mean 'defrock'


Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.-Thomas Jefferson

thinkagain's picture

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Remarks that discriminate based on age, race, religion, disability, etc..


Re: "open the bible and read the words of Jesus."

That and a good Concordance should get one TOTALLY out of organized religion.

Pterocarya frax...

Of course I should have known. You hate Catholics as much as you hate atheists and muslims.




Any formed religion is full of nothing but a bunch of hypocrites. Catholicism, christianity, babtist, what the h*ll is the difference? I surly can't say but I can tell you what they all have in common!


Paid to leave?

Instead, pay someone to dig a hole in a remote field and then ask 'em to take a ride in the country.

BULLISDEEP's picture

"Leave the gun, take the cannoli."

- The Godfather, (movie)

dorothy gale



It's all about the money.


I love the true Catholic members butthe sexual crimes committed by the your clergy is very hard to comprehend. It's been going on forever and you guys just stand by. It's like even though you see it and hear it you can't believe it. I've seen Churches run a minister or member out for one incident. Period. It's unacceptable not only as an American but as a human being.

pigeon farmer

The assets of the catholic church need to be liquidated and placed into an escrow account to be used to compensate the boys that were molested. I will never trust a practicing catholic.


So because of the acts of some you have issued a final decree. You must have other issues.

pigeon farmer

Yes, I have issues with people who support and provide aid to child molesters. I refuse to support an institution that has systematically covered up the molestation of hundreds of thousands of boys over hundrends of years. The problem continues to this day. Is child molestation OK in your eyes when it is committed by a man of god? If the catholic church can afford red velet purses and Gucci shoes for the pope, they can afford to pay for their crimes against humanity. The tax free status of all so called religious orangizations must be revoked.


pigeon I do feel that Pope Francis is different in several ways than what has been the norm.

Pope Francis, giving his clearest indication yet that he wants a more austere Catholic Church, said on Saturday that it should be poor and remember that its mission is to serve the poor."The works of the Church must go forward and some are complex, but with a heart of poverty, not a heart of investment or of a businessman...

In his dress in lieu of a gold cross he wears an iron one he has a silver plated ring in lieu of a gold ring, Pope Benedict's crooiser was embellished with stones Francis is plain. Benedict's throne was glit in gold Francis sits in a plain wooden chair.

He has vowed to get rid of any priest that is not worthy to serve.

I do have things in my past that I am ashamed of however I cannot go back and change the past but I can reform today and continue to live a better life and although I am upset about some of the things of the past about the Catholic Church I have vowed to be paitent an I do think that Pope Francis may change a lot of that and I am willing to give him the chance to prove himself.

He did not just say a lot of things that he feels the people would want to hear as he has lived in the past in a manner that backs up what he says. As a Cardinal he would have been afforded a limo he took the bus. He would not have had to cook his own meals but he did. He has also passed on the papal apartment in favor of residence in a smaller guesthouse.


Re: "The tax free status of all so called religious orangizations must be revoked."

THAT "problem" would largely be solved with a repeal of the 16th Amendment.

Ain't gonna happen regardless.


Pidgeon you've got to be honest, Mother Teresa was a sweet lady with a beautiful heart and I'm not Catholic.

pigeon farmer

Scandal & abuse surrounded Terry too. Do a bit a research. Money is missing, lepers were abused @ her mission. Terry was used by the catholic power to baby face the situation. For whatever it's worth the local catholic churches need an audit by the parishioners.