FAITH: Catholic Church argues paying for lost child rape lawsuits burdens their religion. 7th Circuit rules against them.

FAITH: Catholic Church argues paying for lost child rape lawsuits burdens their religion. 7th Circuit rules against them. March 13, 2015

Timothy Dolan, who was a candidate to become pope this last time around, is…not a great person.  For one, he shuffled child-raping priests off to new locations.  Also, some priests in his charge raped a bunch of kids back in the day and won a lawsuit against the diocese.  So Dolan moved $50 million into a cemetery maintenance fund (must be one hell of a cemetery) to keep it away from the victims when the diocese declared bankruptcy.

It was then time for their bankruptcy proceedings in which Judge Susan Kelley had to ascertain if the diocese has the money to pay the attorney’s fees in all their lost lawsuits.  The diocese said they just didn’t have the money:

Kelley agreed more than a year ago that the archdiocese would not have to pay legal fees while its bankruptcy case was pending so it could keep enough cash on hand to cover at least one month’s bills. Bankruptcy law requires the archdiocese to pay legal fees for itself and its creditors.

In this case, most creditors are victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Their attorneys say the archdiocese has more cash than anticipated, and they’d like to get paid. The lawyers say they are owed more than $2 million.

Because if there’s one organization that’s really hurting for cash, it’s the Catholic Church.  I know, maybe they can ask the people who live in this building if they could rustle up some change:

inside the vatican
Yes, that’s real gold. Nothing but the finest for an organization that preaches the evil of opulence.

Or maybe ask daddy if he could float the diocese a pittance to compensate the victims of the Church’s crimes?  Or hell, I doubt the Pope is ignorant of these dealings, perhaps he could even volunteer the money.  It wouldn’t make a dent in the Church’s ledger.  Even if it would, maybe they could sell a single piece of furniture in the interest of taking care of the people they’ve wronged:

Pope Francis' throne is praised for being more humble than that of his predecessors (would be hard to be more decked out)...it's still gilded to an absurd degree.
Pope Francis’ throne is praised for being more humble than that of his predecessors (would be hard to be more decked out)…it’s still covered in gold to an absurd degree.

Nope?  Nothing?  We have money to gild our halls in gold, but just can’t spare any for the children raped in our care.  Sorry guys.  Hey, try asking Jesus.

Then, the Catholic Church argued that paying the attorney fees representing the people having to resort to lawsuits to get any kind of compensation from the organization that oversaw the rape of their children (and which attempted to hide the fact and shuffled the guilty priests to other dioceses) would substantially burden their freedom of religion.  Seriously.  And do you want to know what’s really crazy?  After a lower court ruled against the diocese, on appeal a federal judge actually bought that story.  Judge Rudolph T. Randa declared that the money in that fund couldn’t be touched because, literally, it would do so much damage to the church that it might impugn somebody’s ability to worship freely.  I’m not joking.

The case involves approximately $57 million that former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan transferred from the archdiocese’s general accounts to into a separate trust set up to maintain the church’s cemeteries. Although Dolan, who is now acardinal, the Archbishop of New York and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has denied that the purpose of this transfer was to shield the funds from lawsuits, Dolan penned a letter to the Vatican in 2007 where he explained that transferring the funds into the trust would lead to “an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”

The issue facing the court is, essentially, whether the funds that Dolan split off into a separate trust can now be reabsorbed into the archdiocese’s assets in order to enable sex abuse victims and other creditors to be paid out of these assets. In holding that these funds cannot be so absorbed, Randa relies on a law that limits the federal government’s ability to “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” Randa cites to the current Archbishop of Milwaukee’s statement that “the care and maintenance of Catholic cemeteries, cemetery property, and the remains of those interred is a fundamental exercise of the Catholic faith,” and concludes that this statement alone is enough to shield the church’s funds. As Randa explains, “if the Trust’s funds are converted into the bankruptcy estate, there will be no funds or, at best, insufficient funds for the perpetual care of the Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries.”

And that ain’t the end of it.

And Randa does not stop there. He goes on to argue that senior church officials get to unilaterally decide what constitutes a “substantial burden” on their faith for purposes of federal law — “Archbishop Listecki’s declaration stands unopposed, and on the issue of religious doctrine, it is unassailable. Moreover, the issue of substantial burden is essentially coterminous with religious doctrine.” In this case, an archbishop declared cemetery funds to be untouchable in a bankruptcy proceeding, but Randa’s reasoning could extend much farther. Nothing in his opinion would prevent a church’s officials from declaring that every single line in every single ledger kept by the church is mandated by the sacred word of God — and therefore every single dollar owned by the church is untouchable so long as the church engages in the kind of accounting gymnastics Dolan allegedly performed.

That ruling was appealed to the 7th Circuit, which has finally brought justice to the case by telling the Catholic Church that religious liberty doesn’t mean being able to harm whomever you with while they have no means of recourse.  The continued operation of a church isn’t more important than securing justice for the victims of child rape in their care.  The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the Milwaukee diocese:

Though a federal district judge agreed with the archdiocese that its religious freedom includes this right not to compensate victims in 2013, a bipartisan panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed that decision on Monday. The Seventh Circuit noted that “the issue of whether the Archdiocese actually made a fraudulent, preferential or avoidable transfer is not before us,” so it remains to be seen whether the abuse victims will be compensated out of the $55 million worth of funds. Nevertheless, the Seventh Circuit’s decision means that the archdiocese will not be able to hide behind claims of religious liberty in order to avoid liability for the actions of its clergy — or, at least, it means as much so long as it is not reversed on appeal.

At least 45 Milwaukee priests face allegations of sexual abuse, including one priest who was accused of molesting close to 200 deaf boys. The cemetery trust was created after the archdiocese agreed to a $17 million settlement involving ten victims who alleged that they were abused by priests in California, but the $55 million worth of funds were not transferred to that trust until after a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision which allowed other lawsuits by alleged victims of priestly abuse to move forward. Dolan, who is now a cardinal and the Archbishop of New York, wrote to the Vatican regarding the $55 million in funds that “[b]y transferring these assets to the Trust, I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”

Suffer the little children?  Judging by the actions of the church that was a mistranslation.  Clearly it was supposed to be “suffer, the little children” (thanks to Ed Brayton for that one).

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