|For some Archbishops the most useful Catholics in the world are here. Or else this is a self portrait.|
Is it better to take from the dead to give to the abused, or is it better to give to the dead to keep from the abused? Given that the Vatican had to sign off on both approaches, there is no direction on this thorny moral pastoral problem from the Vatican. The first story from the LA Times deals with Cardinal Mahony's approach which was to take from the dead to give to the abused. The second story from Huffington Post deals with Cardinal Dolan's approach which was just the opposite. Dolan's approach may have been given the Vatican's approval, but didn't meet with the approval of a Federal bankruptcy judge.
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.
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."
Day-to-day upkeep at the archdiocese's 11 cemeteries and its cathedral mausoleum is financed by cemetery sales revenue separate from the 15% deposited into the fund, spokeswoman Carolina Guevara said. Based on actuarial predictions, it would be at least 187 years before cemeteries are fully occupied and the church started to draw on the maintenance account, she said.
"We estimate that Perpetual Care funds will not be needed until after the year 2200," Guevara wrote in an email.
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.....
There is more to the above story, mostly dealing with how LA Archdiocesan officials were not precisely forthcoming about this transfer of 115 million dollars. It did however, keep the Archdiocese from declaring bankruptcy, which is precisely what Milwaukee Archdiocesan officials have done and also the precise reason why they transferred 55 million dollars into their cemetery account:
Cardinal Dolan and the Dead Lose One to the Living
Michael D'Antonio - Huffington Post - 1/17/2013
Who is more deserving: victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, or dead people moldering their graves?
When he was Archbishop of Milwaukee, Timothy Dolan chose the dead people, placing $55 million into cemetery trust funds and out of the reach of local abuse victims suing the Church. (They want compensation for the suffering caused by childhood sexual trauma.) Dolan left Milwaukee to take the most visible post in Catholic America -- cardinal of New York City - but he could not escape his choice. The victims asked a federal bankruptcy judge to reverse him, and on Friday she did. For now the $55 million is available to settle hundreds of well-documented cases in which priests raped and sexually molested children and adolescents.
Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley discussed her decision in court on Friday, explaining that neither First Amendment protections for religion nor federal law protect the archdiocese from her authority. She sided with creditors in the bankruptcy proceedings, who said the main purpose of the 2008 transfer was to place it out of their reach. In fact the archdiocese had managed the task of mowing the grass and otherwise maintaining cemeteries for generations without a $55 million trust generating income for that purpose.
Although lawyers for the Church will challenge Kelley, she stands on solid legal ground and the federal district court judges that consider such issues rarely overrule their colleagues in bankruptcy courts. Also, Kelley's track record in this controversial and complicated case would defy any argument that she has favored the creditors. Indeed, last month she refused an attempt by them to claw-back $35 million that Dolan had distributed to local parishes. "Arguably there was something 'fishy' about the transfer," noted Kelley at the time. But in that instance the funds had originated in local parishes and one could reasonably argue they were simply getting the money back. This time the fishy smell was stronger, and Kelley put hundreds of other cases on hold to resolve the question in favor of the creditors.
For victims in Milwaukee, among them men who were raped by the head of a boarding school for the deaf, Kelley's decision keeps alive their hope for compensation and, perhaps, the release of documents and depositions that will reveal the truth about how Church leaders deflected complaints and allowed abusive priests to evade justice. For Dolan, it is another contradiction to the jolly, caring persona he has presented to the people of New York. (Previously Dolan denied and then admitted he had authorized payments to induce priests charged with abuse to leave the priesthood.)
Cardinal Dolan, from his perch in NY City has denied a number of decisions he made in Milwaukee only to wind up with egg Benedict on his face. Here is his denial from February 2011 about the transfers of money in the above article as reported by Catholic News Agency:
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York criticized as “malarkey” and “ridiculous and groundless gossip” a lawyer’s claim that while he was the head of the Milwaukee archdiocese, he hid $130 million in archdiocesan funds so that victims of sexual abuse could not sue for it.
He said the charges were “terribly irresponsible” and he invited law enforcement to speak with him about his time as Archbishop of Milwaukee.
“I have nothing to hide,” he said after Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the New York Daily News reports.
“Unfortunately, this man got the attention he wanted and has come to expect from the news, tarnishing the good name of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and of me,” Archbishop Dolan said on his blog.
“Lord knows I’ve made mistakes, but ‘hiding’ $130 million is hardly one of them!”
Just as an aside, what I find interesting about the above quote is that Cardinal Dolan never explicitly denies the charges. He calls them irresponsible, but he doesn't call them untrue. And his last sentence admits to making mistakes and that this wasn't one of them, which is probably true given the Vatican approved of his financial transactions and then rewarded him with New York and an elevation to Cardinal. So I can see where he doesn't think hiding $130 million is one of his mistakes.
I guess if I look just at the facts, I would have to answer my original question by looking at the consequences. Cardinal Mahony finally does something semi right in that releasing $115 million of cemetery trust funds for payment to abuse survivors seems more pastoral than hiding $55 million specifically to avoid pay outs for abuse survivors. Even though Mahony was less than forthcoming about this fact, almost deceitful in fact, he did at least see to it that resources were spent on the living. However, he has not been protected by the Vatican for his part in the LA cover ups and has in fact been publicly dressed down by his successor. Dolan on the other hand, was promoted by the Vatican and given the most visible Archdiocesan See in the US. His deceit was involved protecting the funds rather than settle with abuse victims. Unfortunately for him, the Vatican only appoints Archbishops, not Federal judges.
It seems obvious then that as far as the Vatican is concerned the correct pastoral solution was to slide more money over to cemetery trusts to take care of the dead than use these funds to pastor to the abused living. Can one say 'whited sepulchers'?