Timothy Dolan Authorized Payments to Abusive Priests, Documents Show

Cardinal Timothy Dolan approved payments to suspected pedophile priests to leave the ministry when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee, new documents reveal.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee confirmed Wednesday that it had a policy to pay suspected pedophile priests to leave the ministry, a practice that was crafted under Dolan, it said.

"In 2002, the church affirmed that priest offenders should no longer be functioning as priests in any capacity and having someone seek laicization voluntarily is faster and less expensive and it made sense to try and move these men out of the priesthood as quickly as possible," the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said in a statement. 

The acknowledgement was prompted by a document made public by abuse victims' advocates from the archdiocese's bankruptcy that references a 2003 proposal to pay $20,000 to "unassignable priests" who accepted a return to the laity.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said in a statement to WNYC that the cardinal "has read and supports the statement from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee," and had no further comment.

The New York Times reports Dolan made contradictory claims about the practice when first asked about it:

Questioned at the time about the news that one particularly notorious pedophile cleric had been given a “payoff” to leave the priesthood, Cardinal Dolan, then the archbishop, responded that such an inference was “false, preposterous and unjust.”

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests characterizes the payments as a payoff and bonuses to priests who molested children.

"Cardinal Dolan ... instead of paying off sex offenders needs to demand from the Vatican and from his fellow bishops and cardinals that these practices stop," said Peter Isley, Midwest director of SNAP.

The archdiocese disputes that characterization, saying the payments were in part to more quickly move those men out of the priesthood.

The Journal Sentinel article noted that Dolan used similar language in 2006 when he defended a payment to one former priest.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf also called the payments "a cost-savings for the archdiocese" because the process to involuntarily remove a priest is lengthy and involves Vatican approval.

The bankruptcy document highlighted by SNAP references a meeting of the archdiocese's Finance Council in 2003 that included Dolan, who was then archbishop in Milwaukee.

According to the document, members discussed offering "unassignable priests" $20,000 to accept the process known as laicization.

Annmarie Fertoli contributed reporting.