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Milwaukee Archdiocese Admits It Paid Abusive Priests To Leave Ministry

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, shown at Ash Wednesday services at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in 2011.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, shown at Ash Wednesday services at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in 2011.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee admitted yesterday that it had paid abusive priests up to $20,000 to encourage them to leave the ministry.

The church released a statement after documents filed during its bankruptcy filings revealed the payments. As The New York Times reports, the 2003 policy was crafted under then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who is now a cardinal in New York and as the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of the leading Catholic figures in the country.

At the time, the payments were described as a "payoff," which Dolan rejected saying the "inference was 'false, preposterous and unjust.'"

The Times adds:

"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."

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) continued to characterize the payments as a payoff, telling the paper that the $20,000 figure was only $10,000 less than the "archdiocese hoped to pay victims, according to the same document."

"You don't give a bonus to a man who rapes children," the paper quotes SNAP Midwest director Peter Isely as saying. "If they paid them anything it should have been for therapy and counseling."

The Times adds that one of the priests who received payment was Franklyn Becker, who was accused of abusing at least 10 minors.

"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," the Times reports.

The minutes included in the bankruptcy documents reveal the proposal was to offer abusive priests $20,000 and instead of salary, " they would receive a $1,250 monthly pension benefit, and, until they found another job, health insurance."

Dolan and his office have not commented on the story.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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