The Rev. Timothy Dolan has been archbishop of Milwaukee and currently, of New York City. Roman Caltholic priests have molested children in both those venues. And Monday The New York Times did a Page One analysis of how Dolan handled the pedophile-priest abuse scandal, particularly during his tenure in Wisconsin.
Initially I thought the story, headlined “Complex Struggle: A Prelate’s Record in the Abuse Crisis,” would be an indictment of Archbishop Dolan, who has already become a beloved figure in the Big Apple because of his Irish sense of humor and down-to-earth personality.
But I think The Times actually did a very nuanced story about Dolan’s successes, and self-admitted failures, trying to deal with this century’s shame of the Catholic Church.
The beginning of the story starts out in 2002, when Dolan met, and wept with, abuse victims in Milwaukee, where he had replaced a prelate who had himself been caught up in the sex-abuse scandal. Several months later Dolan wrote a victim and warned him, “Do not put your trust in me…I am imperfect, sinful, struggling, clumsy.”
As it turns out, Dolan disappointed abuse victims in Milwaukee when they learned that, just days before he wrote that letter, he had ordered lawyers to move to have five lawsuits against the church dismissed. Later on, Dolan’s critics would complain that he refused to make public all the names of pedophile priests, and that he didn’t offer enough help for victims.
But the story points out that Dolan seemed to sincerely be trying to juggle the requests of victims with the sensitivities church hierarchy, which wanted things to remain hush-hush, and parisonioneers who didn’t want their weekly donations being used to pay out settlements to victims.
“It was a diplomatic gantlet that many recent bishops have had to walk, and Archbishop Dolan trod it with particular care,” The Times wrote.
I don’t see anyone should be surprised that Dolan “was a tough defender of the church’s interests, clergy and bank balances” in Milwaukee, or that “he worked in an unusually public and personal way to limit lawsuits and settlements,” according to The Times.
Dolan tried to work with SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests,” but ultimately he would not deal with the group. No wonder. At one point, a SNAP member spat on Archbishop Dolan.
During this period, and in St. Louis where Dolan served before Milwaukee , most accused priests that Dolan confronted admitted their guilt. But in one case the priest, the Rev. Alexander Anderson, steadfastly maintained his innocence. After an his own investigation and with input from a special panel, Dolan concluded that Father Anderson was innocent.
Then Rev. Anderson, believing the accusations that he had abused a youth defamed him, filed suit against his accuser — a rather rare occurrence in the midst of the pedophile-priest scandal . The church footed the bill for Rev. Anderson’s legal bills.
To appease those who didn’t want their donations being used to pay abuse victims, Archbishop Dolan established a $4 million fund, money raised by selling church properties, to pay settlements to victims.
The Times’ story also talks about the Wisconsin laws that had an impact on the pedophile-priest cases in the Badger State.
For example, in 2008 Wisconsin was on the verge of creating new woes for the church, when the state Legislature was considering a bill that set a three-year grace period when people could sue the church for abuse no matter how long ago that molestation had taken place. But that bill, which Archbishop Dolan testified against, didn’t pass.
And the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which at one time had limited lawsuits that could be filed against the church, in 2007 ruled that the Milwaukee archdiocese could be sued for fraud by victims who claimed that pedophile priests had been transferred to their church without any warning being given to parishioners.
There are 12 such fraud suits now pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, according to The Times.
My takeaway on Archbishop Dolan is that he tried to do his best in a difficult situation, appeasing angry abuse victims, navigating his way through church politics and making sure that parishioner’s donations were not being used to pay settlements.