Buttonholed by reporters after saying Mass at St. Patrick's yesterday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan denounced as "groundless and scurrilous" Laurie Goodstein's report in last week's New York Times that he had authorized $20,000 payments to induce pedophile priests to voluntarily accept laicization when he was archbishop of Milwaukee. It's anyone's guess how he thinks that's supposed to square with the Milwaukee archdiocese spokeman's statement that such payments were indeed authorized--a statement Dolan "supports," according to his own spokesman.
Over at dotCommonweal, a few commenters have sought to support the Dolan denial by scrutinizing accounts of the single case in point mentioned by Goodstein, that of the notorious abuser Franklyn Becker. Bear in mind that the issue at hand is the veracity of Dolan's September 8, 2006 statement in reponse to a query from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Heinen:
For anyone to assert that this money was a "payoff" or occurred in exchange for Becker agreeing to leave the priesthood is completely false, preposterous and unjust.
What this was, instead, was an act of charity, in line with Catholic social teaching, that allowed a person to obtain health insurance coverage he simply could not afford on his own. If people want to criticize me for that charity, so be it.
Based on interviews and an examination of documents in the hands of Bishop-Accountability.org, some not made public until now, I can report the following.
On May 10, 2003, two months after Dolan and the Milwaukee archdiocese's finance committee discussed a proposal to “offer $20,000 for laicization ($10,000 at the start and $10,000 at the completion the process),” Becker was arrested in California for sexual assault. On May 30, Archbishop Dolan wrote a formal letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), asking that Becker be laicized. Then on October 20, CDF secretary Angelo Amato wrote back, asking that Dolan see if Becker would be willing to ask for laicization. If he should refuse, Amato said, the evidence was sufficiently compelling that the CDF would ask the pope simply to laicize him by fiat.
Exactly what happened next is not in the available written record, but at some point in 2004 Becker was in fact laicized. In a telephone interview today, Peter Isely, Midwest regional director for SNAP, said that Becker told him directly that officials from the Milwaukee archdiocese had come to him with the offer of a quid pro quo: Sign this document accepting your laicization and we'll give you this $10,000 check.
Confirmation of the story is provided by two status reports on the case that were written by one of the two officials in question, Deacon David L. Zimbrich, describing meetings with Becker on February 2 and 8, 2005. In the first, Zimbrich says that Becker expressed concern about his health coverage and that he had told him that he was "too old, too young, or had too high an income" to qualify for government coverage but that he, Zimbrich, had talked to the head of Catholic Charities and that she thought he would qualify for some kind of assistance.
In addition, Becker wanted to know whether he had to pay taxes on "the $10,000 settlement that Fr. Curt (Frederick) and I had given him when we met with him." In the second report, Zimbrich told Becker that he would indeed have to pay taxes on the $10,000, and furthermore: "I advised him that the archbishop was not going to pay for his health insurance, either directly or by making some kind of financial arrangement."
The documents make it clear that Dolan's claim that the $10,000 was for Becker's health insurance is bogus--not only because Zimbrich says so explicitly, but because Becker's request for the insurance coverage came after he had received the check. If the money was not such "an act of charity, in line with Catholic social teaching," what was it? Exactly what Zimbrich said was: a settlement. For all Dolan's bluster, there just isn't any way around it.