(Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar)
NEW YORK – Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has responded to depositions released by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that share details of how priests, including Dolan, handled several cases relating to child abuse by clergy.
"Responding to victim-survivors, taking action against priest-abusers, and working to implement policies to protect children, were some of the most difficult, challenging, and moving events of the 6 ½ years that I served as Archbishop of Milwaukee," said Dolan, who currently serves as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"One of the principles that guided me during that time was the need for transparency and openness, which is why I not only welcomed the deposition as a chance to go on-the-record with how we responded to the clergy sexual abuse crisis during my years in Milwaukee, but also encouraged that it be released."
The deposition discloses a 2003 case, among others, where the Milwaukee archdiocese asked the Vatican to remove a priest who had been found to have repeatedly abused children. The priest received counseling and alcohol abuse treatment and was eventually ordered to stop dressing as a priest and told not to attend seminary buildings.
The Associated Press noted that the priest's dismissal took more than a year, however, as the archdiocese awaited action from the Vatican office in charge of sex abuse cases.
Dolan worked hard to push out such priests from the ministry, however, even paying them to leave the priesthood in some cases.
"The impact on his various victims has been significant," Dolan wrote to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who led the Vatican office at the time. "The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has yet to even locate all of the potential victims that could come forward for assistance. 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."
The newly released documents detail sex abuse committed by dozens of priests, as well as information on a deal between the archdiocese and victims suing it for fraud that reached the federal bankruptcy court. Victims had accused the archdiocese of sending priests found to have committed abuse to new churches without warning the parishioners.
In his statement on Monday, Dolan warned that the release of the documents might lead to some interpreting them incorrectly and raising "old and discredited attacks," such as clergy found guilty of abuse to have been paid to apply for laicization, or defrocking.
"Like it or not, bishops do have a canon law obligation to provide basic support like health care and room and board for their priests until they have finally moved on," Dolan said.
"While certain groups can be counted-upon to take certain statements or events out of context, the documents released show plainly that the bishops have been faithful to the promises made over a decade ago: permanent removal from ministry of any priest who abused a minor; complete cooperation with law enforcement officials; and, strict child-safety requirements."
The cardinal insisted that the sexual abuse of minors is both a crime and a sin, and called upon the church body to remain "rigorous in our response when an allegation of abuse is received, and ever-vigilant in maintaining our safeguards to do all that we can to see that children are protected."
Dolan concluded with hopes that the release of the depositions will show people that the Catholic Church in America is leading the fight against sexual abuse in society, and seeks to help other groups and organizations that are working on this problem.
In March, when Pope Francis was elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church, a network for survivors of clergy abuse said that he provides a "glimmer of hopeful expectation" that the church body can start dealing more forcefully with clergy who have committed abuse and work to prevent such crimes in the future.