Documents show abuse in northern WisconsinAs more victims of clergy sex abuse came forward, then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan developed a plan to pay some abusers to leave the priesthood after writing to Vatican officials with increasing frustration and concern, warning them about the potential for scandal.
By: Superior Telegram, Associated Press, Superior Telegram
As more victims of clergy sex abuse came forward, then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan developed a plan to pay some abusers to leave the priesthood after writing to Vatican officials with increasing frustration and concern, warning them about the potential for scandal if they did not defrock problem priests, according to documents released Monday.
Dolan’s correspondence with Vatican officials and priests accused of sexual abuse was included in about 6,000 pages of documents the Archdiocese of Milwaukee released Monday as part of a deal reached in federal bankruptcy court with clergy sex abuse victims suing it for fraud. Victims say the archdiocese transferred problem priests to new churches without warning parishioners and covered up priests’ crimes for decades.
Those documents included information about two priests accused of sexual abuse that took place in northern Wisconsin.
The documents have drawn attention in part because of the involvement of Dolan, who is now cardinal of the Archdiocese of New York and the nation’s most prominent Roman Catholic official by virtue of his position as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The records provide new details on his plan to pay some abusers to leave the priesthood and the transfer of nearly $57 million for cemetery care into a trust as the archdiocese prepared to file for bankruptcy.
In one case, a priest received a $25,000 settlement to leave the priesthood after being accused of molesting a student identified only as “he” during a camping trip to Ladysmith, Wis.
Rev. James Beck accepted the settlement offer made by Dolan after he was accused of engaging in a game in which the boy was directed to draw shapes on Beck’s chest and Beck would do the same. The game eventually led to the boy fondling Beck, and Beck fondling the boy.
Beck isn’t the only priest in the Milwaukee archdiocese accused of molestation during overnight trips to northern Wisconsin.
Rev. Frederick Bistricky, who taught gym class and organized youth camps, was accused of attempting to sodomize one victim. According to documents released, Bistricky would require the boys to pull down their pants in gym class to demonstrate they were wearing a jock strap, spank them with their pants down if they were not wearing one, and during the camping trips he would encourage the boys to play strip poker and watch while they did.
Victims and their attorneys accused Dolan of bankruptcy fraud, pointing to a June 2007 letter in which he told a Vatican office that moving the money into a trust would provide “an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”
An accused priest granted a temporary assignment in the Diocese of Superior only to reoffend in his new location, a lawyer reviewing the files told the Superior Telegram.
“If he is willing to come to Superior to work for a time until he has readjusted himself to the life of a diocesan priest, I shall be happy to receive him,” Superior Bishop William O’Connor wrote to Archbishop of Milwaukee Moses Kiley about Father Oswald Krusing in November 1942.
Mike Finnegan, a lawyer with Jeff Anderson and Associates in Minneapolis, said the letter indicates the obfuscation used by bishops when writing about abuse. He also said the date shows church officials were long aware that transferring priests does not prevent criminal acts.
“In English, it’s saying that they need to keep him away from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for some time period,” he said. “We know (there was) one person that contacted the archdiocese in 1996 who reported being abused by Krusing in Superior in the 1940s. They moved him up there on another group of unsuspecting parishioners and kids, where he abused a child after he was up there for a very short amount of time.”
An archdiocese official expressed surprise at that interpretation.
“I don’t know of any allegations in Superior. That doesn’t ring a bell with me,” said Jerry Topczewski, the Milwaukee Archdiocese chief of staff.
“He would have been in Superior prior to any allegation coming to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” Topczewski continued, saying the first accusation was in 1947, according to a timeline of the case prepared by Anderson’s law office. “I think that Mike Finnegan did most of (the work on the timeline).”
Church law requires bishops to seek Vatican approval for any property sale or asset transfer in the millions of dollars. Dolan wrote in the letter that the transfer had been approved by archdiocese’s finance council and college of consultors.
A Vatican office approved the transfer within a month. Jeff Anderson, an attorney for many victims, compared that to the long lag in responses to defrock abusive priests.
“These documents show that if they want to move money to protect it from survivors they can act quick as a fox,” Anderson said. “If they want to protect kids, if they have full knowledge of kids in peril, they keep it secret while the Vatican drags its feet and children are kept at peril.”
In a statement, Dolan called any suggestion he was trying to shield money from victims an “old and discredited” attack. Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for current Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said the money was always set aside in a separate fund for cemetery care and moving it to a trust just formalized that.
Peter Isely, Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he would ask the U.S. attorney’s office in Milwaukee to look into the possibility of bankruptcy fraud. However, Marquette University law professor Ralph Anzivino, a bankruptcy specialist, said no criminal charges could be filed unless the bankruptcy judge determined the transfer amounts to fraud.