Thursday, July 4, 2013

What Will it Take?

Milwaukee’s Archbishop Listecki warned people last week, “Prepare to be shocked”, with regards to reading sexual abuse case-related church documents which were released July 1st.  I read several of the documents and the following things did strike me with intensity so I appreciate the warning:

  1. The Vatican stated in one of its letters to Tim Dolan, Milwaukee’s archbishop at the time, “…the Dicastery would call to your Excellency’s attention the priorities for the use of ecclesial goods as established in c.1254.2, noting that the support of clergy ranks second in importance only to divine worship.”  I think many people sense church hierarchy prioritizes protecting ritual and clergy above all else but it was startling to see it in writing.  There’s no mention of the flock, victims or anything else as having a priority other than ritual and clergy, by the way. 
  2. The documents repeatedly express inwardly focused concern about scandalizing the institution.  Depending on the case there is little to no mention about healing victims or protecting other children. 
  3. The documents drip with obsequious flattery back and forth between hierarchical officials.
  4. Documents of laicization (removing a priest from the priesthood) are written in Latin – the language spoken regularly by absolutely no one on this planet for the last thousand or so years.
  5. Evidently the Vatican has a stronger stomach for sexual assault of minors than me or the secular world in general because Canon Law has a lower bar than secular law on this.  When it comes to sexually assaulting children, Canon Law turns a blind eye if the victim is over 16.  But secular law doesn’t.   Thus in one pedophile case because the minor in question was over 16 at the time of sexual assault, the Vatican left in ministry the priest who admitted he sexually assaulted the kid.
  6. There is stomach-turning irony that documented evidence of John Paul II’s horrible preference for protecting pedophiles over children was released the same week that his case for sainthood advances.  I think I’m still gagging on some bile caught in the back of my throat on that one.
  7. There is a profound absence of urgency and sense of accountability to the victims by Vatican officials.  There is also a profound absence of urgency though some level of persistence on the part of Dolan.  The process for protecting children was slow and pedantic sometimes taking more than six years to remove a priest.  This starkly stands in contrast to the 44 day turnaround Dolan got when it came to protecting church finances.

Though the hullabaloo about Dolan sheltering diocesan funds from victim payouts seems well-founded (see the brief timeline at the end of this article), I was more struck by the profound lack of leadership by someone who fancies himself a competent leader.  I sense that Dolan sincerely believes he did everything he could to address the pedophiles in his diocese.  But to me, the documents portray him as a direction follower not a leader.  If the rule book said to do “X” even if “X” was counter-intuitive or ridiculous or potentially harmful to children, Dolan did “X” like a good boy. 

He might even consider himself a hero for patiently and persistently suffering through the Vatican’s long delays.  Truly, I do appreciate Dolan’s persistence.  But, I’d hope that if my child was raped, a leader would hound officials daily until the perpetrator was securely away from other potential victims.  I’d like to think a leader would blast the story to the media using public pressure to inspire action if officials did not act.  I’d like to think the leader did something other than follow rules that proved ineffective.

But no, if Dolan sent a letter and the Vatican ignored it for months or even years, he sometimes followed up after several moons passed if he felt there was another development to share.  He followed up if lack of action might jeopardize his agenda such as fighting the extension of the statute of limitations for sexually assaulting minors.  He followed up if lack of action might cause further financial harm to the diocese.  He followed up if he thought his personal credibility might be damaged.  But he didn’t seem to follow-up with a sense of urgency with regards to children. 

The end of this article has timelines based upon documents released this week for a few pedophile cases.  You can read those or the source documents to see for yourself the sloth-like pace at which these cases were handled or not handled.  Some of these cases took 5 or more years to decide, meanwhile leaving priests in ministry for what equates to almost 1/3 of a child’s childhood time span.

When I saw letters went unanswered for months if not years, I found myself uttering if not crying aloud, “What the heck took you guys so long?  Try email.  Try automated workflow.  Try doing your jobs."

However, being a compassionate person, I realized other things might have happened in those years which distracted hierarchical officials or somehow otherwise caused processing delays.  Perhaps the letters were sent by messengers on foot who then had to swim back and forth across the ocean between the shores of Europe and North America.  Maybe there was a mail carrier strike in the Vatican.  Maybe countless dogs ate countless batches of homework.  Being a resourceful person, I scanned historical records to recall key events from that timeframe and included them at the end of this article also. 

In all seriousness, Dolan’s lack of urgency reflected his clerical culture and its priorities placing ritual and hierarchy above all else.  However those priorities do not align with most people’s priorities or the gospel.  I think the hierarchy still doesn’t get the magnitude of destruction these misplaced priorities have on their credibility.  If you don’t protect people’s living children, it’s unlikely they respect your guidance for protecting unborn children.  The hierarchy has gone beyond not caring about people’s children to throwing their children in harm’s way as a preferred action to harming its institution or clergy.  Few things erect a wall faster for most parents than someone who places their child in danger. 

And yet, it seems the hierarchy’s “precious children” are its rituals, material possessions and clergy.  Thus anything seen as threatening those things causes the hierarchy to react much like parents do to someone who endangers their children.  Consequently I wonder if we’re at an impasse in fixing the clergy abuse problem due to such wide cultural divergence.  Short of a dramatic shift in the hierarchy’s priorities placing care of laypeople higher than care of institution and clergy, is there hope for any resolution to abusive clergy?  Will the chasm between hierarchy and laity ever close?  Will wounds ever heal?



  • First one must appreciate that Milwaukee is home to Harley Davidson and 2003 was their 100th anniversary complete with gala festivities.  Perhaps Dolan was out blessing HOGs.
  • Keiko the orca from “Free Willy” died and being soft-hearted people, maybe the archbishop and Vatican officials were in mourning.
  • The iTunes store was launched and these guys might have been busy loading up their iPods with all sorts of newly available sacred music.
  • Some good wholesome movies like “Finding Nemo”, “Lord of the Rings”, and “Bruce Almighty” were released and they might have been at the movie theater a lot that year.
  • Michael Jackson was accused of sexually molesting children and they might have decided to wait and see what happened with that.


  • Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction during her Super Bowl performance exposing one of her breasts.  They might have spent a lot of time watching replays.
  • The U.S.’s Statue of Liberty reopened and they might have gotten stuck in long lines waiting to visit the monument.
  • There was a U.S. presidential election and they might have been busy campaigning for their friends.
  • Facebook was launched and they were busy sending out friend requests.
  • The summer Olympics were in Greece – so close to the Vatican – how could they pass that up?
  • Again some blockbuster movies came out such as “The Passion of Christ” and “Harry Potter Prisoner of Azkaban” so they may again have been at the movies a lot.


  • Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. and the London subway bombing occurred.  Maybe they were busy helping with clean-up efforts.
  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the president of Liberia and was the first woman elected president for any African country.  They might have been attending her inaugural festivities.
  • John Paul II died and Joe Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. 
  • Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles and they might have been shopping for the perfect wedding gift.
  • The IRA ended armed conflict in Northern Ireland so they might have been celebrating peace.
  • Terri Schiavo was removed from artificial life support putting her in a state like Pope John Paul II who refused ever being connected to life support.  They definitely were caught up in fighting to keep her attached to life support and alive though they were not doing likewise for JPII.  Maybe that’s because JPII’s death cleared the way for Joe Ratzinger to become pope?
  • Michael Jackson was found not guilty of sexually abusing minors so maybe they thought they could get off too.
  • Ahmadinajad was elected president of Iran and they might have been writing congratulatory cards to him.


  • Italy beat France for the soccer (football) World Cup and they might have been watching all the matches.
  • The winter Olympics were in Turin, Italy.  Again, with it so close to the Vatican, how can you pass that up?
  • The Wii was released and they were probably glued to their Wii consoles.
  • Pluto was downgraded from a planet, Steve Irwin (the Crocodile Hunter) was killed, and James Brown died so they might have been in mourning or singing and dancing to “I Feel Good” and “I Got the Feeling.”


  • Clearly they were learning to do the “Cupid Shuffle” and adapting the song with a parody called, “The Clergy Shuffle.”
  • The Liberty of the Sea super ocean liner cruise ship and Airbus 380 superjumbo jet had their maiden commercial voyages so they might have been on vacation trying out these new luxury modes of transportation.
  • The iPhone launched and they were probably trying to figure out how to use theirs
  • Nancy Pelosi, a Roman Catholic, was elected as the first female Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and they were probably busy sending her congratulatory messages
  • The last Harry Potter book was released and they were probably tied up reading it.  I hear it was a long one.


  • The international financial melt-down occurred and they were probably fretting about the net worth of church assets.
  • Fidel Castro stepped down in Cuba and they were either mourning or celebrating.
  • The Beijing Summer Olympics occurred and they were probably busy watching Michael Phelps win his record-setting 8 gold medals in a single Olympics.
  • Petroleum hit $100/barrel and they were probably busy figuring out ways to help the poor through this economic crisis
  • Avery Dulles, Yves Saint Laurent, and Heath Ledger died and they were again in mourning, especially over the loss of such a great fashion designer…they do have a thing for pretty garments…oh and a Cardinal of the Church who was a respected theologian.
  • Delta and Northwest airlines merged forming the world’s largest airlines.  Again, probably out traveling.
  • Beyonce released “Single Ladies” and they were either captivated watching her dance in the video or trying to learn the dance themselves.
  • Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S. and undoubtedly they were offering their support and congratulations.


Rev. Jerome Wagner: Joseph Ratzinger (both as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) and Pope Benedict), and Pope John Paul II took over 3 years to laicize a priest who admitted to numerous incidents sexually assaulting minors.

  • September 20, 2004 Dolan sent letter to CDF explaining the priest’s history, admissions, lack of remorse and requesting laicization for the priest
  • February 14, 2005 The CDF tells Dolan to ask the priest to resign voluntarily
  • March 26, 2005 The priest wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II asking to be released from the priesthood
  • March 29, 2005 Dolan sends a cover letter to accompany the priest’s letter requesting laicization
  • June 15, 2007 Dolan sends a letter to the CDF explaining that the priest has violated penal sanctions and that “delay in response to his request for laicization has led to more complacency on his part regarding the seriousness of what his behavior has caused the Church.”  Please note that there is no concern for the victim – merely the institution.
  • October 6, 2007 The Vatican issues laicization
  • December 17, 2007 The priest is finally notified that he has been laicized.  

Rev. Budzynski: Joseph Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II took a year and 3 months to laicize a man who molested at least 32 children.

  • July 15, 2003 Dolan sends letter to the Vatican’s CDF saying the priest admitted to charges
  • October 14, 2003 The CDF responds that they need the ages of the victims
  • October 25, 2003 Dolan sends a list of ages for Budzynski’s 32 victims
  • October 29, 2004 CDF and Pope John Paul II laicize the priest over a year later.

Rev. O’Brien: Joseph Ratzinger (both as head of CDF and as Pope Benedict), and Pope John Paul II took 6 years to laicize.

  • August 7, 2003 Dolan sends letter to CDF requesting the priest’s laicization; it is accompanied by O’Brien’s letter requesting the same based upon his admission of guilt in civil court for sexual misconduct with a minor
  • November 19, 2004 Dolan sends more information to the CDF
  • November 29, 2004 Dolan sends more information to the CDF
  • September 6, 2005 Dolan sends more information including the priest’s violations of set restrictions and the likelihood of many more victims
  • January 4, 2006 The Vatican’s CDF responds that they can’t do anything because the priest’s letter sent in 2003 didn’t contain admission of guilt or express remorse
  • August 29, 2006 Dolan sends O’Brien’s new and improved letter requesting laicization to CDF
  • April 3, 2009 CDF and Pope Benedict XVI laicize the priest

Rev. Trepanier: The Vatican took 5 years to decide to leave an admitted perpetrator in priestly ministry

  • September 7, 2004 Dolan sends letter to Vatican indicating the priest admitted to sexual misconduct with minors.  It also indicated that the Archdiocese had paid him $20k
  • October 5, 2005 CDF says it’s ok to proceed with the penal process but suggests just having him retire to a private life of prayer or have him voluntarily seek laicization
  • May 15, 2006 Dolan sends letter to CDF indicating the priest had been encouraged to voluntarily seek laicization but refused.  Dolan advised against early retirement because that would place a financial burden on the diocese. 
  • January 15, 2008 Dolan sends CDF a letter forcefully rejecting the notion of having the priest take a ten-year “time out” before returning to ministry. Dolan mentioned the importance of the Vatican’s CDF granting the laicization because of the potential impact it might have on his efforts to block legislation which would extend the statute of limitation for prosecuting sexual assault against minors.
  • November 9, 2008 Priest sends a letter to the Milwaukee Archdiocese asking for his official status.
  • November 21, 2008 The Archdiocese responds to the priest expressing dismay that the CDF has not yet responded.
  • April 8, 2009 The CDF ruled that they would not take action to laicize the priest because the minor he assaulted was over 16 and Canon Law only considers sexual assault of a minor serious enough to remove a priest from ministry if the minor is under 16.

Rev Benham: Joseph Ratzinger (both as head of CDF and as Pope Benedict), and Pope John Paul II took over 4 years to laicize though the priest admitted to sexually abusing a minor.

  • April 19, 2004 Dolan sends letter to CDF asking to laicize priest
  • September 27, 2004 Dolan sends another letter stating that the priest refuses to repent and won’t voluntarily seek laicization
  • July 19, 2005 CDF responds that Dolan should ask the priest again to seek laicization voluntarily, or perhaps just put the priest in a position of limited ministry
  • October 20, 2005 Dolan sends letter to the CDF again asking for the priest’s laicization
  • February 22, 2007 Dolan sends letter to the CDF highlighting the priest’s violation of penalties and open disobedience.
  • January 15, 2008 Dolan sends letter to the CDF indicating that the CDF is advising him to violate the USCCB’s norms for sexually abusive priests.  He also mentions the Archdiocese’s financial difficulties.
  • August 27, 2008 The priest is laicized.


  • March 7, 2003 Milwaukee Archdiocese Financial Council minutes indicate the diocese was working on a fund to shelter Parish Deposit Funds from possible victim payouts.  There was expressed concern at the financial burden of paying for unassignable priests and they offered the idea of paying $20,000 to each priest who volunteered to be laicized.
  • August, 2006 Dolan notified the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy of possible bankruptcy.
  • June 4, 2007 Dolan sends a letter to the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy asking permission to move $56.9M into a non-diocesan held trust for cemeteries to protect the money from being used to pay victims.
  • July 18, 2007 The Vatican granted permission to shelter the funds and gave instructions on how to wire the $100 fee to the Congregation for the tax to do this.
  • 2008 Dolan advises the Vatican of Financial difficulties.
  • December 15, 2010 the Archdiocese of Milwaukee files for bankruptcy after having moved more than $130M in funds out of diocesan coffers.


  1. This is all so sick. After reading through your timeline it struck me that Dolan should have sent 'donations' with each request for laicization and he might have gotten the same expedited response he did for transferring all those millions. And it only took a 100.00 fee to move that transaction along. Imagine if he had offered 10% of the money he paid priests to self laicize to the CDF? The whole process might have taken just days.

  2. sadly they do seem to come across as coin-operated based upon their own words and actions

  3. This truly captures a sad state of affairs in The Church's hierarchy. Thank you Louise for challenging The Faithful to wake up & think/pray about "What Will It Take" to effect change.

    What are your thoughts regarding Pope Francis's awareness of need or ability to effect change?

  4. In addition to writing everything out in Latin (no automated spellcheckers for that!), they probably used carrier pigeons to send the mail back & forth...

    But only in good weather months!!