Man, things just keep getting worse for the Los Angeles diocese – which is strange if god really has their back. Unable to tap into the Pope’s sacred piggy bank, they keep needing to find money to pay the $660 million settlement with the families of the children their priests raped. The fundraiser was a start, but they’d have to find other ways to come up with the money.
Well, they found something in 2007.
Under his leadership in 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles quietly appropriated $115 million from a cemetery maintenance fund and used it to help pay a landmark settlement with molestation victims.
The church did not inform relatives of the deceased that it had taken the money, which amounted to 88% of the fund. Families of those buried in church-owned cemeteries and interred in its mausoleums have contributed to a dedicated account for the perpetual care of graves, crypts and grounds since the 1890s.
Mahony and other church officials also did not mention the cemetery fund in numerous public statements about how the archdiocese planned to cover the $660-million abuse settlement. In detailed presentations to parish groups, the cardinal and his aides said they had cashed in substantial investments to pay the settlement, but they did not disclose that the main asset liquidated was cemetery money.
Surprise! What excuse did they give? I mean, “we took the money you gave us for upkeep of your loved ones’ graves because our priests fucked children, thanks for the help” doesn’t strike a very appealing tone.
In response to questions from The Times, the archdiocese acknowledged using the maintenance account to help settle abuse claims. It said in a statement that the appropriation had “no effect” on cemetery upkeep and enabled the archdiocese “to protect the assets of our parishes, schools and essential ministries.”
More euphemisms. They said “to protect the assets of our parishes, schools and essential ministries” but left off “from ourselves…because we failed to protect children from the rapists we were advancing as moral leaders.”
And if you take 88% out of the fund and nothing changes, then you are hardcore ripping off the surviving relatives of those buried in the cemetery.
But good news for the Catholic Church: this time it looks like they’ll be able to skirt the law.
The church’s use of fund money appears to be legal. State law prohibits private cemeteries from touching the principal of their perpetual care funds and bars them from using the interest on those funds for anything other than maintenance. Those laws, however, do not apply to cemeteries run by religious organizations.
Ain’t that sweet? No other cemetery can take funds donated for upkeep and then turn around, without informing the donors and without their consent, and use the money elsewhere. But if your religious? Hell, you can be as underhanded as you want.
It’s a terrible story. The only way I could even imagine it getting worse would be if some of the victims of rape-happy priests were buried in the cemetery.
Mary Dispenza, who received a 2006 settlement from the archdiocese over claims of molestation by her parish priest in the 1940s, said her great-uncle and great-aunt are buried in Calvary Cemetery in East L.A.
“I think it’s very deceptive,” she said of the way the appropriation was handled. “And I think in a way they took it from people who had no voice: the dead. They can’t react, they can’t respond.”
The fund dates to the tenure of Bishop Francis Mora, who opened Calvary in 1896. An official archdiocese history published in 2006 recounts how the faithful of Mora’s era were assured their money was “in the custody of an organization of unquestionable integrity and endurance” — the Catholic Church.
An organization which, just a year later in 2007, took the money without notifying the relatives of the deceased to pay the legal penance for the church’s moral leaders raping kids. You can practically smell the integrity.
“Management plans to repay these appropriated funds from future cemetery sales … after all liabilities associated with the lawsuits … are paid off,” a December 2012 church financial report stated.
The report continued “assuming our priests of unquestionable integrity don’t rape any more kids…if that happens, we might not be able to take the money we earn (read: that you give us) and replenish those funds.”
And don’t worry – this isn’t just one priest scrambling around trying to find the cash. The Vatican also thought taking the cemetery money was a good idea.
Bishops in other cities had closed parishes and schools or filed for bankruptcy, moves that angered the faithful and that Mahony wanted to avoid. He went to Rome at least twice to consult with Vatican officials, who must approve the transfer of archdiocese property worth more than $10 million. He later told the National Catholic Reporter he got permission to “alienate” — the Vatican’s term for sale or transfer — $200 million in church assets. Asked whether the Vatican had signed off on the use of cemetery funds, archdiocese Chief Financial Officer Randolph E. Steiner said in a statement, “All approvals under the Church’s Code of Canon Law were obtained.”
Because the Vatican couldn’t just dip into its trove. Best to let the little people cover this one.
In a statement, the archdiocese said that the appropriation was disclosed in an annual financial report and that people attending the presentations “were informed that the financial statement was publicly available” on its website. But the report available at the time of the 2008 presentations did not mention the cemetery fund in a section dedicated to the archdiocese plans to pay the abuse settlement. When the removal of the funds was noted — in a paragraph about cemetery care — the report said $75 million was taken, an understatement of $39.9 million. The church corrected the number in subsequent reports.
Just like with the documents they finally released under court order, it’s not that the Catholic Church is sneaky and dishonest, they just made a convenient mistake that obscured a very uncomfortable truth. If anything, they’re just guilty of a little bumbling.
Fred Rinaldi, who received a settlement from the archdiocese over allegations of molestation by his parish priest in the 1950s and 1960s, buried both of his parents in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. Told of the appropriation of cemetery funds for the abuse payout, Rinaldi initially called it “just disgusting.”
But after reflecting on his parents’ devotion to the Catholic faith, he said they probably would have approved.
Well Fred, how did your parents feel about children getting raped? Because the money was lost because that’s what happened.