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Cardinal Dolan Has a Lot of Explaining to Do

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Timothy Dolan has been curiously silent since the highly damning news that he may have paid pedophile priests in his (former) Milwaukee Archdiocese as much as $20,000 to go away broke on May 31. It's likely that Dolan, his advisors and his apologists are waiting for the reports to die down -- to go away, perhaps in the manner of those Milwaukee priests who abused children.

When the Cardinal finishes being silent, he'll have some explaining to do.

He spoke to the New York Post on June 4 but didn't say much. He didn't deny making the payments, but he described the Times' claim that he had as "groundless", and took a shot at New York City's paper of record. Isn't his admission grounds enough for a reporter to go with the story?

Waiting out the scandal may prove difficult for Timothy Dolan with so many time-sensitive projects at hand: the USCCB's (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) unofficial campaign for Romney, the lead-up to to "Fortnight for Freedom" -- a "two-week period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4," and the ongoing war against "ObamaCare."

The allegations at hand (that Dolan paid off pedophile priests in Milwaukee) are so very serious that even Catholics who are disappointed in Dolan are reluctant to believe that the United States' top priest would have have paid a handful of pedophile priests to just go away --instead of turning them over to the Milwaukee District Attorney's Office.

I'm hoping Dolan can explain his actions, but at present it's hard to know what the facts are because not only does the cardinal appear to be both denying and admitting he paid pedophiles off, but he doesn't appear to believe he owes his "flock" any explanation at all for allowing men who raped to go free. (According to Laurie Goodstein's May 31 report in the New York Times, Dolan characterized the accusation as "preposterous," but later described one of the payoffs as an "act of charity.")

If laicization were a cure for pedophilia, spending $10,000 or $20,000 dollars to expedite the defrocking of a predator priest might make sense -- and be less appalling.

Laicization (the ecclesiastical process by which a priest is made not a priest) accomplishes one thing alone: it allows for a diocese, or order, to get rid of a problem priest. Unfortunately, laicization does little to prevent future incidences of abuse by pedophiles.

I don't doubt for a moment that laicization is a strong punishment for many priests who commit sex crimes against children. However, as long as a "former priest" can still live in an apartment building filled with children, get a job raking leaves at a school, become a football coach or work behind an ice cream counter, defrocking a pedophile priest can never, in and of itself, suffice.

Men who sexually abuse children tend to continue sexually abusing children unless they are arrested and treated. Dolan knew this when he cut pedophile priests loose.

Laicization is an ecclesiastical solution for a ecclesiastical problem. It does not punish a crime.
So, why pay a pedophile priest $20,000 dollars to go away?

If the cardinal witnessed a brutal sexual attack on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral, would he call the police? Or would he approach the assailant and hand him a check for 20 grand to make himself scarce?

I believe this Milwaukee payoff story offers a glimpse at how the Roman Catholic hierarchs on the whole really see the sexual abuse scandal. Individual pastors and bishops may feel sorry for those who have been injured by pedophile priests, but even those who would help victims to obtain justice in the wake of sexual abuse are bound up in a perverse dynamic which requires them to place more importance on insulating Mother Church from public scandal than on the moral obligation to protect children from bodily, psychic and spiritual harm.

It's possible that bishops who shuffled and hid pedophile priests felt something for the innocent victims of sex crimes, but the suffering of children was the lesser of two evils at hand. The greater evil was any threat to the hierarchy and Magisterium (teaching body of the church). Obviously this view of things can not exist without a tacit willingness on the parts of bishops and predators to maintain a code of secrecy: a brocade wall of silence.

And the silence and secrecy work in all directions. Dishonest bishops count on other bishops to "have their backs." Honest bishops (They do exist.) wind up neutralized. The official and unofficial secrecy creates optimal conditions for the sexually dysfunctional to do their worst. Pedophiles count on prevailing silence to keep their compulsive behaviors hidden. Once caught, priests who molest children know the code of secrecy has the potential to spare them jail sentences and treatment. The sacrament of reconciliation (conducted in secrecy and protected by a seal) covers (erases) the sin on a regular basis.

It's a closed system that works for everyone but the victims.

It could be that in their disturbing naiveté, bishops who failed to turn predators over to the police thought of themselves in that way that hypothetical mother on the airplane might when the oxygen masks come down. Mother puts the mask on her own face before she affixes that of her child; there is no saving the child if the mother is not viable.

To extend the metaphor: Mother Church can not save souls unless her mask is firmly secured when the pressure drops.

Some Catholics (an orthodox fringe) still hold the belief that because the church is saving souls from the eternal fires of Hell, there is no earthly cost too high to pay to keep the Magisterium propped up; the ends justify the means. In a church that so venerates its martyrs, the notion of sacrificing children in order that the world should obtain redemption isn't all that much of a theological reach.

But rare is the mother who does not cast a cold eye on those who violate her children, and Mother Church is really no exception.

The great majority of Roman Catholics believe unequivocally, that in every case, an adult who has sex with a child must be reported to the police. They may agree on little else, but with the exception of a tiny, hysterical segment of "orthodox Roman Catholics" who believe otherwise, almost all Roman Catholics agree that when it comes the rape of children, there should be Zero Tolerance.

A bishop who defrocks a priest credibly accused of a sex crime as an alternative to reporting a him to the civil authorities makes himself an accessory to that crime.

Timothy Dolan could face a lot of heat in the coming months. The New York Times obtained court papers that indicate Dolan authorized payment for digging up dirt on victims for the legal defense of a priest accused of sex crimes. The pedophilia scandal bankrupted (his former) the Milwaukee diocese. He has been credibly accused of hiding $130 million to protect it from being seized for settlements to victims. Yet his Milwaukee diocese was apparently flush enough to allow for payoffs to men who committed sex crimes against children.

It appears that the United States' top bishop may have seen laicization of pedophile priests as an acceptable alternative to reporting these predators to law enforcement agencies. If Dolan did fail to report such crimes, he could still face child endangerment and obstruction of justice charges down the line. If the Milwaukee diocese was tax exempt at the time these bribes were offered -- if Dolan moved money around in secrecy while covering up a pattern of sex crime involving children -- it is conceivable that Dolan could be charged under RICO.

Did Timothy Dolan physically harm children himself? No. But it appears he may have "looked the other way." I hope (we) Catholics won't look the other way. If we do, we too are culpable.

As Dolan, his advisors, flak catchers and apologists wait for reports pertaining to his alleged payoffs to priests who violated children to just go away, the bigger question might be whether the "long arm of the law" can stay away.

If that long arm does aim to reach out to tap Cardinal Dolan on the shoulder so as to ask a few questions, it had best reach swiftly. It's way too soon to think of Dolan as a flight risk, but the Vatican is only seven hours away, and once ensconced in La Citta Vaticana, the pope's man in "Sin City" would never again have to explain a thing.

Not in this life, at least.