Sexual Abuse Files of 42 Catholic Priests Will Be Released Tomorrow; ‘Prepare To Be Shocked,’ Archbishop Says

Tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. (Central Time), a new chapter opens in the long, sordid tale of Catholic clergy raping children. That’s the hour when the Milwaukee diocese, which has found itself in bankruptcy proceedings since early 2011, will make thousands of pages of incriminating records available, including personnel files and secret depositions by the highest Catholic Church authorities in Wisconsin. Both the archdiocese’s site and a website run by victims’ lawyers will publish the documents.

There is speculation that the disclosure may be a body blow to New York’s Timothy Dolan (pictured below), the most powerful Cardinal in the United States. Though Dolan denies he did anything wrong, critics say that when he learned the Chapter 11 filing in Milwaukee was inevitable, he had millions of dollars funneled into special trusts, out of reach of abuse victims and their lawyers.

But Dolan isn’t the only one who may be having Maalox moments. Lots of current and former priests will probably not sleep well tonight, reports Milwaukee’s Journal-Sentinel:

“Needless to say, there are some terrible things described in many of the documents,” Archbishop Jerome Listecki said in his weekly letter to local Catholics in advance of the release. To those deciding to read the files, Listecki advised, “prepare to be shocked.

The records will contain parts of 42 priests’ personnel files as well as depositions of former Archbishop Timothy Dolan, now cardinal of New York; retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland; retired Bishop Richard Sklba; and now-defrocked priest Daniel Budzynski… The documents are expected to include… correspondence between the archdiocese and the Vatican, which has the final word on defrocking priests; evidence that the archdiocese under Dolan paid some priests to accept that decision without protest; and graphic accounts of sexual assault of young people.

Listecki’s letter is an odd mix of straight talk and disingenuous blather. “Prepare to be shocked” is an example of the former. As for the latter, he repeats the strategic canard that the disclosure may do further damage to the victims’ psyches. The concern for the beaten and the buggered comes a little late and would draw a chorus of howls in a sexual-violence case concerning “civilian” suspects. Can you imagine a serial rapist à la Ariel Castro stalling the investigation and the legal proceedings as much as possible by arguing that it would hurt his victims if further details of their ordeal surfaced?

The archdiocese has recently begun spinning its opening of the records “as part of our commitment to open and candid communication,” which sounds lovely until you realize that the same Catholic authority long fought the release tooth and nail, again out of ostensible concern for the victims — more specifically, for victims’ anonymity.

Survivor groups aren’t buying it:

“Releasing these documents is not going to hurt us. The damage has been done. We can’t suffer any more than we already have,” said Charles Linneman of Sugar Grove, Ill. “I haven’t met one survivor who wants those documents to stay sealed.”

Linneman was sexually abused by a pedophile priest when he was a teenager; in a rather wonderful twist of fate, he now serves as chairman of the bankruptcy creditors committee.

The 42 priest files to be released by the diocese will pertain to those whom the Church pretty much knows are lawbreakers — clergy who were the focus of “substantiated allegations” of sexual abuse.

They include some of the archdiocese’s worst sex offenders. Among them: the late Father Lawrence Murphy, who is believed to have molested as many as 200 deaf boys, most during his decades at St. John School for the Deaf in St. Francis; and Sigfried Widera, who was facing 42 counts of child abuse in Wisconsin and California when he jumped to his death from a Mexico hotel room in 2003 as authorities closed in.

And tomorrow’s cache of documents will most likely show that, once again, higher-ups in the church moved pedophile priests from one parish or school to the next — without disclosing their crimes.

Milwaukee’s archdiocese was the eighth one domestically to file for Chapter 11 protection. It may or may not survive financial bankruptcy, but in 24 hours we should find that its moral bankruptcy is no longer in question.

(Dolan image via Jim McDermott; cartoon via Independent Australia)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.


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