Catholic diocese paid paltry sums to two poor, black abuse victims

A SURVIVOR of clerical abuse, and now the Mississippi coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), has blasted the Jackson Diocese and a Franciscan order over paltry compensation payments made to two black men who were abused by a friar in the 1990s.

Mark Belenchia

by Barry Duke

Mark Belenchia, above, was commenting on the settlements made to La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love who suffered abuse at the hands of Paul A West.

The former Franciscan friar and fourth-grade teacher has been extradited from Wisconsin to Mississippi to faces sexual battery charges.

Belenchia, whose abuse by a Catholic priest began when he was around 13 and lasted for three years, said of the settlements:

They were harmed as children and they were harmed as adults. The Diocese of Jackson and the Franciscan order ought to be ashamed of their performance.

Reporting for Religion News Service, Michael Rezendes wrote:

The men making the allegations, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love, both 37, are cousins who grew up together and encountered West in the 1990s, when he was a teacher and later the principal at the St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Three years ago, the cousins reported that West sexually assaulted them on school grounds and on road trips, including one to a New York summer camp established by the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic religious order.

As The Associated Press first reported, nearly two years ago La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love each agreed to settle their claims for $15,000 – far less than most clergy abuse victims receive.

A third man, Joshua’s younger brother, Raphael, also alleged West sexually abused him and reported the abuse to church authorities in 1998, after which West returned to Wisconsin. Raphael Love rejected a settlement similar to those signed by his brother and cousin.

In November, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love filed a lawsuit in federal district court in New York, claiming the Franciscans pressured them into signing low-ball settlements that required their silence about their allegations. At the time they signed the settlements, they were not represented by an attorney.

“They felt they could treat us that way because we’re poor and we’re Black,” Joshua Love told the AP.

Father James Gannon, the leader of a Wisconsin-based group of Franciscan Friars, negotiated the settlements. Last summer, he denied that racism or the Loves’ poverty were factors in the amount of money offered . “Absolutely not,” he told the AP.

In 2006, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, which includes Greenwood, settled lawsuits covering 19 victims — 17 of whom were white – for $5 million. That average payout of $263,000 for each survivor is 17 times that offered to each of the Loves. Payments in more recent settlements nationally have ranged far higher.

Gannon also attempted to negotiate a similar agreement with Raphael Love, Joshua Love’s younger brother, who is serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed as a juvenile. Raphael Love refused Gannon’s offer because, he said, the amount was not enough to hire a criminal attorney willing to argue that he deserves a new trial.

West, 60, did not contest his extradition at a hearing in Outagamie Country, Wisconsin on August 17. He arrived at the Leflore County Jail in Greenwood, Mississippi, earlier this week following an investigation by the Mississippi Attorney General’s public integrity division.

West also has been charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child in Wisconsin.

Complete Article HERE!

Disgraced West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield was told a year ago to make restitution.

His successor says Bransfield has gone incommunicado.

Michael J. Bransfield, then-bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., in 2015.

By Michelle Boorstein

More than a year after Pope Francis ordered ousted West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield to make personal amends for alleged sexual and financial misconduct, his successor bishop says he has yet to hear from Bransfield about a restitution proposal.

Last Tuesday, MetroNews, a West Virginia news site, quoted Bishop Mark Brennan as saying that he had not heard from Bransfield in “many months, and I would not expect to. … Whatever he is doing, he is doing and is in a dark hole. We do not know exactly what he is up to; we have not been in communication.”

In July 2019, Francis forbade Bransfield, a well-connected Philadelphian who had held prominent national spots in the Catholic Church, from celebrating Mass and from living in West Virginia. Bransfield had led the church there for 13 years. In November, Brennan had proposed, per Francis’s demand, a specific proposal for Bransfield’s restitution.

Some experts say the restitution package was a first for a bishop. Brennan called for his predecessor, now 76, to pay the diocese nearly $800,000, to apologize to victims, to lose his place in the diocesan cemetery, and to lose the normal bishop retirement package and instead receive a lower stipend equal to that of someone who had been a priest for 13 years.

Diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop on Monday referred The Washington Post to a July 28 letter Brennan wrote to the diocese. The letter only briefly mentioned Bransfield, saying that neither Brennan nor the papal nuncio — the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States — had heard back from Rome since November “on the plan of amends I submitted.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Brennan in the MetroNews report is saying Rome needs to approve of Brennan’s plan, Bransfield’s response or both.

Bransfield declined to comment Monday, and his lawyers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Post in 2019 obtained an internal church investigation that found Bransfield, as bishop in one of the country’s poorest states, spent millions of dollars of diocesan money on chartered jets, lavish furnishings at his official residence and nearly 600 cash gifts to fellow clergymen. The Post also found that $21 million was moved from a church-owned hospital in Wheeling, W.Va., to be used at Bransfield’s discretion. The money was moved into the Bishop’s Fund, a charity Bransfield created with the stated purpose of helping residents of West Virginia, tax filings showed.

MetroNews quoted Brennan last week as saying Bransfield “would not come up with his own plan and did not admit to his actions. Brennan previously told MetroNews that Bransfield told him he did not know who he needed to apologize to.”

Francis was the one who initially called for Bransfield to make amends, Brennan said told MetroNews.

“I wasn’t sent in to demand that. They demanded that. They asked me to work with him, and let me tell you, that was not easy to do,” Brennan said.

Bransfield has denied wrongdoing, saying that his staff in Wheeling was responsible for diocesan finances and which accounts checks came from. He has told The Post that he thinks he greatly improved the financial health of the diocese during his tenure and that gifts and lavish perks were within church culture norm. He has denied the claims of seminarians and priests who said he sexually harassed them.

Complete Article HERE!

After lobbying, Catholic Church won $1.4B in virus aid


By REESE DUNKLIN and MICHAEL REZENDES

The U.S. Roman Catholic Church used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid, with many millions going to dioceses that have paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy protection because of clergy sexual abuse cover-ups.

The church’s haul may have reached — or even exceeded — $3.5 billion, making a global religious institution with more than a billion followers among the biggest winners in the U.S. government’s pandemic relief efforts, an Associated Press analysis of federal data released this week found.

Houses of worship and faith-based organizations that promote religious beliefs aren’t usually eligible for money from the U.S. Small Business Administration. But as the economy plummeted and jobless rates soared, Congress let faith groups and other nonprofits tap into the Paycheck Protection Program, a $659 billion fund created to keep Main Street open and Americans employed.

By aggressively promoting the payroll program and marshaling resources to help affiliates navigate its shifting rules, Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and other ministries have so far received approval for at least 3,500 forgivable loans, AP found.

The Archdiocese of New York, for example, received 15 loans worth at least $28 million just for its top executive offices. Its iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue was approved for at least $1 million.

In Orange County, California, where a sparkling glass cathedral estimated to cost over $70 million recently opened, diocesan officials working at the complex received four loans worth at least $3 million.

And elsewhere, a loan of at least $2 million went to the diocese covering Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, where a church investigation revealed last year that then-Bishop Michael Bransfield embezzled funds and made sexual advances toward young priests.

Simply being eligible for low-interest loans was a new opportunity. But the church couldn’t have been approved for so many loans — which the government will forgive if they are used for wages, rent and utilities — without a second break.

Religious groups persuaded the Trump administration to free them from a rule that typically disqualifies an applicant with more than 500 workers. Without this preferential treatment, many Catholic dioceses would have been ineligible because — between their head offices, parishes and other affiliates — their employees exceed the 500-person cap.

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” said Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor specializing in constitutional issues and religion who has studied the Paycheck Protection Program. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”

The amount that the church collected, between $1.4 billion and $3.5 billion, is an undercount. The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, an organization of Catholic financial officers, surveyed members and reported that about 9,000 Catholic entities received loans. That is nearly three times the number of Catholic recipients the AP could identify.

The AP couldn’t find more Catholic beneficiaries because the government’s data, released after pressure from Congress and a lawsuit from news outlets including the AP, didn’t name recipients of loans under $150,000 — a category in which many smaller churches would fall. And because the government released only ranges of loan amounts, it wasn’t possible to be more precise.

Even without a full accounting, AP’s analysis places the Catholic Church among the major beneficiaries in the Paycheck Protection Program, which also has helped companies backed by celebrities, billionaires, state governors and members of Congress.

The program was open to all religious groups, and many took advantage. Evangelical advisers to President Donald Trump, including his White House spiritual czar, Paula White-Cain, also received loans.

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‘TRULY IN NEED’

There is no doubt that state shelter-in-place orders disrupted houses of worship and businesses alike.

Masses were canceled, even during the Holy Week and Easter holidays, depriving parishes of expected revenue and contributing to layoffs in some dioceses. Some families of Catholic school students are struggling to make tuition payments. And the expense of disinfecting classrooms once classes resume will put additional pressure on budgets.

But other problems were self-inflicted. Long before the pandemic, scores of dioceses faced increasing financial pressure because of a dramatic rise in recent clergy sex abuse claims.

The scandals that erupted in 2018 reverberated throughout the world. Pope Francis ordered the former archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to a life of “prayer and penance” following allegations he abused minors and adult seminarians. And a damning grand jury report about abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses revealed bishops had long covered for predator priests, spurring investigations in more than 20 other states.

As the church again reckoned with its longtime crisis, abuse reports tripled during the year ending June 2019 to a total of nearly 4,500 nationally. Meanwhile, dioceses and religious orders shelled out $282 million that year — up from $106 million just five years earlier. Most of that went to settlements, in addition to legal fees and support for offending clergy.

Loan recipients included about 40 dioceses that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years paying victims through compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings. AP’s review found that these dioceses were approved for about $200 million, though the value is likely much higher.

One was the New York Archdiocese. As a successful battle to lift the statute of limitations on the filing of child sexual abuse lawsuits gathered steam, Cardinal Timothy Dolan established a victim compensation fund in 2016. Since then, other dioceses have established similar funds, which offer victims relatively quick settlements while dissuading them from filing lawsuits.

Spokesperson Joseph Zwilling said the archdiocese simply wanted to be “treated equally and fairly under the law.” When asked about the waiver from the 500-employee cap that religious organizations received, Zwilling deferred to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A spokesperson for the bishops’ conference acknowledged its officials lobbied for the paycheck program, but said the organization wasn’t tracking what dioceses and Catholic agencies received.

“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi said in a written statement. According to AP’s data analysis, the church and all its organizations reported retaining at least 407,900 jobs with the money they were awarded.

Noguchi also wrote the conference felt strongly that “the administration write and implement this emergency relief fairly for all applicants.”

Not every Catholic institution sought government loans. The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy based in Stamford, Connecticut, told AP that even though its parishes experienced a decline in donations, none of the organizations in its five-state territory submitted applications.

Deacon Steve Wisnowski, a financial officer for the eparchy, said pastors and church managers used their rainy-day savings and that parishioners responded generously with donations. As a result, parishes “did not experience a severe financial crisis.”

Wisnowski said his superiors understood the program was for “organizations and businesses truly in need of assistance.”

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LOBBYING FOR A BREAK

The law that created the Paycheck Protection Program let nonprofits participate, as long as they abided by SBA’s “affiliation rule.” The rule typically says that only businesses with fewer than 500 employees, including at all subsidiaries, are eligible.

Lobbying by the church helped religious organizations get an exception.

The Catholic News Service reported that the bishops’ conference and several major Catholic nonprofit agencies worked throughout the week of March 30 to ensure that the “unique nature of the entities would not make them ineligible for the program” because of how SBA defines a “small” business. Those conversations came just days after President Trump signed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which included the Paycheck Protection Program.

In addition, federal records show the Los Angeles archdiocese, whose leader heads the bishops’ conference, paid $20,000 to lobby the U.S. Senate and House on “eligibility for non-profits” under the CARES Act. The records also show that Catholic Charities USA, a social service arm of the church with member agencies in dioceses across the country, paid another $30,000 to lobby on the act and other issues.

In late April, after thousands of Catholic institutions had secured loans, several hundred Catholic leaders pressed for additional help on a call with President Trump. During the call, Trump underscored the coming presidential election and touted himself as the candidate best aligned with religious conservatives, boasting he was the “best (president) the Catholic church has ever seen,” according to Crux, an online publication that covers church-related news.

The lobbying paid off.

Catholic Charities USA and its member agencies were approved for about 110 loans worth between $90 million and $220 million at least, according to the data.

In a statement, Catholic Charities said: “Each organization is a separate legal entity under the auspices of the bishop in the diocese in which the agency is located. CCUSA supports agencies that choose to become members, but does not have any role in their daily operations or governance.”

The Los Angeles archdiocese told AP in a survey that reporters sent before the release of federal data that 247 of its 288 parishes — and all but one of its 232 schools — received loans. The survey covered more than 180 dioceses and eparchies.

Like most dioceses, Los Angeles wouldn’t disclose its total dollar amount. While the federal data doesn’t link Catholic recipients to their home dioceses, AP found 37 loans to the archdiocese and its affiliates worth between $9 million and $23 million, including one for its downtown cathedral.

In 2014, the archdiocese paid a record $660 million to settle sex abuse claims from more than 500 victims. Spokespeople for Los Angeles Archbishop Jose M. Gomez did not respond to additional questions about the archdiocese’s finances and lobbying.

In program materials, SBA officials said they provided the affiliation waiver to religious groups in deference to their unique organizational structure, and because the public health response to slow the coronavirus’ spread disrupted churches just as it did businesses.

A senior official in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which oversees the SBA, acknowledged in a statement the wider availability of SBA loans to religious organizations. “The CARES Act expanded eligibility to include nonprofits in the PPP, and SBA’s regulations ensured that no eligible religious nonprofit was excluded from participation due to its beliefs or denomination,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, some legal experts say that the special consideration the government gave faith groups in the loan program has further eroded the wall between church and state provided in the First Amendment. With that erosion, religious groups that don’t pay taxes have gained more access to public money, said Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and attorney who has represented clergy abuse victims on constitutional issues during bankruptcy proceedings.

“At this point, the argument is you’re anti-religious if in fact you would say the Catholic Church shouldn’t be getting government funding,” Hamilton said.

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CASHING IN FAST

After its lobbying blitz, the Catholic Church worked with parishes and schools to access the money.

Many dioceses — from large ones such as the Archdiocese of Boston to smaller ones such as the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin — assembled how-to guides to help their affiliates apply. The national Catholic fiscal conference also hosted multiple webinars with legal and financial experts to help coach along local leaders.

Federal data show that the bulk of the church’s money was approved during the loan program’s first two weeks. That’s when demand for the first-come, first-served assistance was so high that the initial $349 billion was quickly exhausted, shutting out many local businesses.

Overall, nearly 500 loans approved to Catholic entities exceeded $1 million each. The AP found that at least eight hit the maximum range of $5 million to $10 million. Many of the listed recipients were the offices of bishops, headquarters of leading religious orders, major churches, schools and chapters of Catholic Charities.

Also among recipients was the Saint Luke Institute. The Catholic treatment center for priests accused of sexual abuse and those suffering from other disorders received a loan ranging from $350,000 to $1 million. Based in Silver Spring, Maryland, the institute has at times been a way station for priests accused of sexual abuse who returned to active ministry only to abuse again.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the church’s aggressive pursuit of funds better than four dioceses that sued the federal government to receive loans, even though they entered bankruptcy proceedings due to mounting clergy sex-abuse claims. Small Business Administration rules prohibit loans to applicants in bankruptcy.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico — once home to a now-closed and notorious treatment center for predator priests — prevailed in court, clearing the way for its administrative offices to receive nearly $1 million. It accused the SBA of overreaching by blocking bankruptcy applications when Congress didn’t spell that out.

Yet even when a diocese has lost in bankruptcy court, or its case is pending, its affiliated parishes, schools and other organizations remain eligible for loans.

On the U.S. territory of Guam, well over 200 clergy abuse lawsuits led church leaders in the tiny Archdiocese of Agana to seek bankruptcy protection, as they estimated at least $45 million in liabilities. Even so, the archdiocese’s parishes, schools and other organizations have received at least $1.7 million as it sues the SBA for approval to get a loan for its headquarters, according to bankruptcy filings.

The U.S. church may have a troubling record on sex abuse, but Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, Pennsylvania, pushed back on the idea that dioceses should be excluded from the government’s rescue package. Approximately 80 organizations within his diocese received loans worth $10.3 million, the diocese said, with most of the money going to parishes and schools.

Persico pointed out that church entities help feed, clothe and shelter the poor — and in doing so keep people employed.

“I know some people may react with surprise that government funding helped support faith-based schools, parishes and dioceses,” he said. “The separation of church and state does not mean that those motivated by their faith have no place in the public square.”

Disgraced former cardinal McCarrick gave more than $600,000 in church funds to powerful clerics, records show

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, now defrocked, prepares to celebrate Mass at the Basilica of Sts. Nereus and Achilleus in Rome in 2005.

By Shawn Boburg, Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Chico Harlan

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in church money to powerful Catholic clerics over nearly two decades, according to financial records obtained by The Washington Post, while the Vatican failed to act on claims he had sexually harassed young men.

Starting in 2001, McCarrick sent checks totaling more than $600,000 to clerics in Rome and elsewhere, including Vatican bureaucrats, papal advisers and two popes, according to church ledgers and former church officials.

Several of the more than 100 recipients were directly involved in assessing misconduct claims against McCarrick, documents and interviews show. It was not until 2018 that McCarrick was removed from public ministry amid allegations of misconduct decades earlier with a 16-year-old altar boy, and this year he became the first cardinal known to be defrocked for sexual abuse.

The checks were drawn from a little-known account at the Archdiocese of Washington, where McCarrick began serving as archbishop in 2001. The “Archbishop’s Special Fund” enabled him to raise money from wealthy Catholic donors and to spend it as he chose, with little oversight, according to the former officials.

McCarrick sent Pope John Paul II $90,000 from 2001 to 2005. Pope Benedict XVI received $291,000, most of it a single check for $250,000 in May 2005, a month after he was elevated to succeed the late John Paul.

Representatives of the former popes declined to comment or said they had no information about those specific checks. A former personal secretary to John Paul said donations to the pope were forwarded to the secretary of state, the second most powerful post at the Vatican. Experts cautioned that such gifts may also have been directed to papal charities.

A Vatican spokesman declined to comment. In statements, Vatican clerics who received checks described them as customary gifts among Catholic leaders during the Christmas season or as a gesture of appreciation for their service. They said the gifts from McCarrick were directed to charity or used for other proper purposes.

The gifts “never had any effect on the Cardinal’s decision-making as an official of the Holy See,” said a spokesman for Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, a high-ranking cleric who received $6,500 from McCarrick in the 2000s, the ledgers show.

The checks from McCarrick’s fund add a new dimension to a scandal over how he rose to the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church and remained there despite complaints of misconduct that reached the Vatican as early as 2000. A Post investigation earlier this year found that another cleric, a McCarrick ally who was a bishop in West Virginia, also gave cash gifts to influential clergy in the United States and at the Vatican while facing allegations of sexual misconduct and financial abuses.

McCarrick, a legendary fundraiser for the church, was defrocked in February after Vatican officials found him guilty of two charges: soliciting sex during confession and committing “sins” with minors and adults “with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The Vatican plans to release its report on McCarrick soon.

The Vatican plans to release a report about its handling of the allegations against McCarrick in the coming months, church officials have said. The financial records from the Archbishop’s Special Fund are among the documents church officials in Washington sent to Rome for that examination, according to one former archdiocese official. The former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

An attorney for McCarrick did not respond to requests for comment for this story. In his only public statements about the misconduct allegations, McCarrick recently told a reporter, “I do not believe that I did the things that they accuse me of.”

In a statement to The Post, the Archdiocese of Washington said McCarrick had sole control of the tax-exempt fund.

“The funds in the account came from donations sent personally to Mr. McCarrick to direct in his sole discretion,” the archdiocese said. “During his tenure in Washington, Mr. McCarrick made contributions to many charitable and religious organizations and members of leadership in the Church.”

The ledgers obtained by The Post show names of beneficiaries, check numbers, amounts and dates of disbursement. The ledgers also contain the names of donors for the years 2010 to 2016.

McCarrick’s fund took in more than $6 million over 17 years. Among the biggest contributors was Maryanne Trump Barry, the sister of President Trump and a former federal appellate judge. She gave him at least $450,000 over four years, the records show. She declined to comment.

McCarrick directed millions of dollars from the fund to Catholic charities in the United States and in Rome, as well as organizations in countries stricken by poverty and conflict, the ledgers show.

Yet nearly 200 checks were sent to fellow clerics, including more than 60 archbishops and cardinals.

The leader of a foundation that made substantial contributions to McCarrick’s fund said he was surprised to learn that checks went to clerics. Tom Riley, president of the Connelly Foundation, based outside Philadelphia, said in a statement that his group’s contributions were meant to help “the poor, the needy, refugees, and the mission of the Catholic Church.”

“Everything about the current situation is a source of terrible sadness for us,” he said.

Checks to key figures

McCarrick, 89, became one of the most recognizable church figures in America during a career spanning a half-century. He traveled the world for the Vatican and became the U.S. Catholic Church’s de facto spokesman nearly two decades ago as it reeled from a sex-abuse crisis that began in Boston. In Washington, he presided over funerals of the city’s political elite, including Edward M. Kennedy, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, and hosted dinners for President George W. Bush and other dignitaries.

Behind the scenes, McCarrick’s alleged conduct so alarmed some of his fellow clerics that they reported it to superiors, according to documents that have been posted online in recent years and interviews with some of those involved.

One of those who came forward was the Rev. Boniface Ramsey, a teacher in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in the Archdiocese of Newark. McCarrick was leader of the archdiocese for more than a decade.

Ramsey said publicly last year that he called the Vatican’s U.S. diplomat, known as the apostolic nuncio, in 2000 to sound the alarm when McCarrick was announced as the next archbishop in Washington.

“I was just shocked,” Ramsey said in a recent interview with The Post.

Ramsey said he told the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, that McCarrick routinely took students from the seminary to his New Jersey beach house and pressured them to sleep with him in his bed. Ramsey told Montalvo he was not aware of any sexual contact but considered McCarrick’s behavior inappropriate.

Montalvo instructed Ramsey to put his claims in writing so they could be forwarded to the Vatican, and Ramsey did so, he said. Ramsey heard nothing back until 2006, when he received a letter from Sandri, then an archbishop in the Vatican secretary of state’s office. The letter briefly acknowledged his warning from several years earlier, according to a copy he posted online.

The ledgers obtained by The Post show that McCarrick was writing checks in those years to Montalvo, Sandri and other senior prelates responsible for managing clerics or handling sex-abuse allegations.

Montalvo accepted three checks from McCarrick worth a total of $5,000 before his death in 2006, the ledgers show, while Sandri received the $6,500 from 2002 to 2008.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who until 2006 served as secretary of state, received $19,000 from 2002 to 2016, the records show.

Sodano did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The Rev. J. Augustine Di Noia, an American who in 2001 started working in the Vatican office that assessed sex-abuse claims, accepted six checks worth a total of $9,500 from 2001 to 2009, the records show.

In a statement, a spokesman for Di Noia, now an archbishop, said the first check was for expenses related to his move to the Vatican. Others were “Christmas-time offerings” or were given to support him as he transferred to another Vatican post in 2009.

“Archbishop Di Noia affirms categorically that Theodore McCarrick never attempted to influence him in his work for the Holy See,” he said. “Whatever were Theodore McCarrick’s tragic personal failures, it is nevertheless a sad day when improper motives are reflexively assigned to assistance given and received in good faith.”

Told by The Post of McCarrick’s checks, Ramsey said he was not surprised.

“I assumed something like this was going on,” he said. “But I didn’t know checks were going to individual clerics.”

Lack of action

A retired bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., said in a statement last year that in December 2005 he contacted Montalvo with new allegations about McCarrick. Bishop Emeritus Paul Bootkoski said he called the apostolic nuncio and then followed up in writing to relay two former seminarians’ claims of sexual misconduct by McCarrick.

Officials in the Metuchen Diocese deemed one claim so significant that they had already secretly paid an $80,000 settlement, according to recent news accounts. They would pay $100,000 to the second seminarian a short time later.

While leaders in Rome considered how to proceed, McCarrick reached retirement age. In May 2006, he stepped down from his post in Washington, his public reputation untarnished. He remained prominent in church affairs and in his capacity as archbishop emeritus was allowed to maintain control of the special fund.

At least one Vatican official has said he was infuriated by the lack of action against McCarrick. Late in 2006, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò wrote a memo urging Sandri and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then the secretary of state, to sanction McCarrick, according to a public letter Viganò released through Catholic publications in 2018.

Viganò wrote that his superiors never responded to the memo he sent in 2006. He accused Vatican officials of protecting McCarrick and asserted that McCarrick “had the financial means to influence decisions” at the time. He did not elaborate in the letter and did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Viganò’s August 2018 letter was published soon after the church announced that McCarrick was being removed from public ministry.

Critics of Viganò have accused him of using the letter to undermine progressive adversaries within the church. In public statements, some top Vatican officials have disputed details of Viganò’s account, including his claim that Pope Francis was aware of detailed allegations against McCarrick years ago but ignored them. Francis does not appear among the list of check recipients, according to the ledgers obtained by The Post.

At the same time Viganò says he was urging sanctions, McCarrick continued sending checks to key church figures. The checks were often clustered around Christmas, with just over half recorded in the ledgers in December or January, according to a Post analysis. In some cases, McCarrick started giving clerics money when they took on new jobs with more authority.

In 2007, among the new beneficiaries was Bertone, who had recently been named secretary of state. Records show that Bertone received seven checks worth a total of $7,000 before he stepped down in 2013.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni began receiving checks in 2008, soon after he was elevated to be a top aide to Bertone. Filoni received $3,500 through 2013, the records show.

Viganò said in his public letter that he shared his concerns about McCarrick with Filoni in 2008. Once again, nothing came of it, Viganò said.

“I was greatly dismayed at my superiors for the inconceivable absence of any measure against the Cardinal,” Viganò wrote.

Bertone and Filoni did not respond to messages seeking comment.

McCarrick also gave to lower-level officials in Rome.

American Archbishop Peter Wells started receiving checks in 2010, the year after he took a key Vatican job under Filoni. Wells had received $2,500 by the time the checks stopped in 2016, the year he left the post for an assignment outside the Vatican.

Other recipients included the longtime head of the papal household, Cardinal James Harvey, and at least two priests working as personal assistants to Benedict and John Paul.

Wells did not respond to messages seeking comment.

In an interview, Harvey said numerous bishops from big cities in the United States sent him monetary gifts to show appreciation for his office’s help, including in making arrangements for visits to the pope.

“It never occurred to me that this would be in some way improper,” he said.

“It wasn’t about currying favor,” Harvey said. “It wasn’t some parallel system of nefarious activity.”

A spokesman for Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, called such gifts common and said they do not influence how Parolin exercises his official responsibilities. He received $1,000 from McCarrick shortly after becoming secretary of state in 2013.

“To send and receive such gifts is customary during the Christmas season, including between Bishops, as a sign of appreciation for work carried out in the service of the universal Church and for the Holy Father,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Some experts, told of The Post’s findings, said cash gifts can create the appearance of a conflict.

“It raises questions about whether McCarrick was buying access or protection,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a columnist at Religion News Service and author of a book about Vatican politics and operations. “This doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Former West Virginia bishop Michael J. Bransfield gave $350,000 in cash gifts to clerics in the United States and at the Vatican from 2005 to 2018, The Post reported in June. He used church money that was routed through his personal account.

The church began investigating Bransfield last year after one of his top aides wrote in a confidential letter to church leaders that the gifts, many of them sent around the Christmas season, were an attempt to “purchase influence.” The investigation later faulted Bransfield for the gifts and found that he inappropriately spent millions of dollars in church money on personal extravagances and engaged in sexual misconduct with seminarians and young priests. Bransfield, who was removed from public ministry in July, has denied wrongdoing.

More than a dozen recipients of Bransfield’s gifts pledged to return the money after The Post reported that it was drawn from church accounts.

At least 17 clerics who received cash gifts from Bransfield also received checks from McCarrick, records show.

Well-known donors

The donors to the Archbishop’s Special Fund include wealthy and well-known figures.

Among them are novelist Mary Higgins Clark; John B. Hess, chief executive of oil giant Hess Corp.; and a foundation run by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), who previously served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, the ledgers show.

“For many years I have supported a long list of Catholic charities and causes because I believe in the work they do,” Clark said in a statement. “If the money I donated to Cardinal McCarrick was misused in any way, it was without my knowledge, and I am shocked and saddened.”

Hess and Rooney did not respond to requests for comment.

Another donor was William McIntosh, a former Wall Street executive. McIntosh said he got to know McCarrick in the 1990s when both served on the board of the Papal Foundation, a Philadelphia-based charity that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for initiatives favored by the pope. McCarrick was a founder of the charity and its first president.

McIntosh said he began sending contributions to McCarrick when he was archbishop in Newark for a discretionary charitable account he controlled at the time. McIntosh said he trusted McCar­rick’s judgment and was unaware that money he sent him over the years went to other clerics.

“Based on my work with him at the Papal Foundation, I considered him excellent at what he did and tried to be helpful,” McIntosh said. “I had no idea what he was doing with it. I assumed he was doing good things.”

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark, Maria Margiotta, declined to answer questions about the fund McCarrick controlled there. “Since matters involving former Cardinal McCar­rick are under review by law enforcement and/or involve litigation, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss publicly,” she said.

The current archbishop of Newark, Joseph W. Tobin, received a $1,000 check from McCarrick in 2016, the ledgers show. Margiotta said that the check was a gift marking Tobin’s elevation as a cardinal and that he believes he deposited it “in a personal account, where it was used to defray the expenses incurred by his new responsibilities or for charitable purposes.”

Some of the money that flowed into McCarrick’s fund came from a foundation that he advised as a board member.

McCarrick directed at least $250,000 to his fund from the Loyola Foundation between 2011 and 2016, as he sat on the foundation’s board, said Executive Director Gregory McCarthy. Each foundation board member was allowed to designate an annual allotment to a favored charity, McCarthy said.

“In this case, the funds went to the Archbishop’s Fund, which was overseen by the Archdiocese of Washington,” McCarthy said. “Frankly I did not know where the funds would go from there.”

McCarthy said foundation officials received assurances from the Archdiocese of Washington that McCarrick’s account was a legitimate charitable fund.

According to two former archdiocese officials, the fund was reviewed yearly to account for expenditures and deposits but otherwise received minimal oversight.

Meanwhile, the number of people claiming to have been abused by McCarrick continues to expand. Early this year, U.S. church officials sent the Vatican allegations involving at least seven boys and dating from 1970 to 1990, The Post has reported.

Amid the fallout, the Catholic Church has been under pressure to explain how it ignored or missed years of warnings. The Vatican report addressing those issues is expected to be released as early as January. In announcing the review in 2018, the Vatican said in a statement that “both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated.”

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New abuse suits could cost church over $4B

In this Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, photo, attorney Adam Slater takes a phone call on a patio outside his high-rise Manhattan office overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in New York. Slater’s firm is representing clients accusing the Roman Catholic Church of sexual abuse, a clientele that is rapidly growing after New York state opened its one-year window allowing sex abuse suits with no statute of limitations.

By BERNARD CONDON and JIM MUSTIAN

At the end of another long day trying to sign up new clients accusing the Roman Catholic Church of sexual abuse, lawyer Adam Slater gazes out the window of his high-rise Manhattan office at one of the great symbols of the church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

“I wonder how much that’s worth?” he muses.

Across the country, attorneys like Slater are scrambling to file a new wave of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy, thanks to rules enacted in 15 states that extend or suspend the statute of limitations to allow claims stretching back decades. Associated Press reporting found the deluge of suits could surpass anything the nation’s clergy sexual abuse crisis has seen before, with potentially more than 5,000 new cases and payouts topping $4 billion.

It’s a financial reckoning playing out in such populous Catholic strongholds as New York, California and New Jersey, among the eight states that go the furthest with “lookback windows” that allow sex abuse claims no matter how old. Never before have so many states acted in near-unison to lift the restrictions that once shut people out if they didn’t bring claims of childhood sex abuse by a certain age, often their early 20s.

That has lawyers fighting for clients with TV ads and billboards asking, “Were you abused by the church?” And Catholic dioceses, while worrying about the difficulty of defending such old claims, are considering bankruptcy, victim compensation funds and even tapping valuable real estate to stay afloat.

“It’s like a whole new beginning for me,” said 71-year-old Nancy Holling-Lonnecker of San Diego, who plans to take advantage of an upcoming three-year window for such suits in California. Her claim dates back to the 1950s, when she says a priest repeatedly raped her in a confession booth beginning when she was 7 years old.

“The survivors coming forward now have been holding on to this horrific experience all of their lives,” she said. “They bottled up those emotions all of these years because there was no place to take it.”

Now there is.

___

AP interviews with more than a dozen lawyers and clergy abuse watchdog groups offered a wide range of estimates but many said they expected at least 5,000 new cases against the church in New York, New Jersey and California alone, resulting in potential payouts that could surpass the $4 billion paid out since the clergy sex abuse first came to light in the 1980s.

Lawyers acknowledged the difficulty of predicting what will happen but several believed payouts could exceed the $350,000 national average per child sex abuse case since 2003. At the upper end, a key benchmark is the average $1.3 million the church paid per case the last time California opened a one-year window to suits in 2003. That offers a range of total payouts in the three big Catholic states alone from $1.8 billion to as much as $6 billion.

Some lawyers believe payouts could be heavily influenced by the recent reawakening over sexual abuse fueled by the #MeToo movement, the public shaming of accused celebrities and the explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report last year that found 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children in that state over seven decades. Since then, attorneys general in nearly 20 states have launched investigations of their own.

“The general public is more disgusted than ever with the clergy sex abuse and the cover-up, and that will be reflected in jury verdicts,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who was at the center of numerous lawsuits against the church in that city and was portrayed in the movie “Spotlight.”

Said Los Angeles lawyer Paul Mones, who has won tens of millions in sex abuse cases against the church going back to the 1980s: “The zeitgeist is completely unfavorable to the Catholic Church.”

For Mones, the size of lawsuit payouts under the new laws could hinge on whether most plaintiffs decide to settle their cases with dioceses or take their chances with a trial.

“The X-factor here is whether there will be trials,” he said. “If anyone starts trying these cases, the numbers could become astronomical.”

Since the 15 states enacted their laws at different times over the past two years, the onslaught of lawsuits is coming in waves.

This summer, when New York state opened its one-year window allowing sexual abuse suits with no statute of limitations, more than 400 cases against the church and other institutions were filed on the first day alone. That number is now up to more than 1,000, with most targeting the church.

New Jersey’s two-year window opens this week and California’s three-year window begins in the new year, with a provision that allows plaintiffs to collect triple damages if a cover-up can be shown. Arizona, Montana and Vermont opened ones earlier this year. Even one of the biggest holdouts, Pennsylvania, is moving closer to a window after legislators voted last month to consider amending its constitution to make it easier to pass one.

Already, longtime clergy abuse lawyer Michael Pfau in Seattle says he’s signed up about 800 clients in New York, New Jersey and California. Boston’s Garabedian says he expects to file 225 in New York, plus at least 200 in a half-dozen other states. Another veteran abuse litigator, James Marsh, says he’s collected more than 200 clients in New York alone.

“A trickle becomes a stream becomes a flood,” Marsh said. “We’re sort of at the flood stage right now.”

Church leaders who lobbied statehouses for years against loosening statute-of-limitations laws say this is exactly the kind of feeding frenzy they were worried about. And some have bemoaned the difficulty of trying to counter accusations of abuse that happened so long ago that most witnesses have scattered and many of the accused priests are long dead.

“Dead people can’t defend themselves,” said Mark Chopko, former general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “There is also no one there to be interviewed. If a diocese gets a claim that Father Smith abused somebody in 1947, and there is nothing in Father Smith’s file and there is no one to ask whether there is merit or not, the diocese is stuck.”

___

Slater’s Manhattan offices may have views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, spiritual home of New York City’s Catholic archdiocese, but ground zero for his church abuse lawsuit operation is a call center, of sorts, about an hour’s drive away in suburban Long Island, in an office building overlooking a parking lot.

There, headset-wearing paralegals in a dozen cubicles answer calls in response to ads on talk radio and cable TV news channels pleading: “If you were sexually abused by a member of the clergy, even if it happened decades ago … you may be entitled to financial compensation.”

That pitch spoke to 57-year-old Ramon Mercado, who had long kept silent about the abuse he suffered in the 1970s, in part because he didn’t want to upset his devout Catholic mother. Since her recent death, he’s ready to talk about the New York City priest who invited him into his Plymouth sedan to warm up on a cold day and ended up molesting him hundreds of times over the next three years.

“I was sitting in my living room and someone came on TV, ‘If you’ve been molested, act now,’” Mercado said. “After so many years, I said, ‘Why not?’”

When such calls come in, the paralegals are trained to press for details but to do so gently.

“What age would you say you were?”

“Ten or 11? OK. Would you remember the face if you saw it?”

“He would take you out of your bed? What did he say when he came to get you?”

“Do you want to take a break? Are you OK? Are you sure?”

The next step is to get a lawyer on the line to see if it’s a case they can take to court. Slater says that out of the more than 3,000 calls his firm has taken leading up to and since the opening of New York’s one-year window, it has signed up nearly 300 clients, and expects another 200 by the middle of next year.

One recent day, lawyers talked to at least a half-dozen potential plaintiffs by lunchtime, with one saying she was raped at a first communion party and another saying a priest sodomized him after he was told to pull down his pants so his temperature could be taken.

In a windowless break room over pizza, the lawyers recounted some of the other horrific claims they’ve heard in just the past few months: A young girl penetrated by a finger, then a fist; a boy raped by three priests at the same time; an altar boy told to perform oral sex and then swallow because it would “absolve him of his sins.”

One plaintiff still smells the alcohol on the priest’s breath decades later. Another says he can still hear the priest approaching his classroom as he came to get him, the squeak of shoes in the school hallway.

One man called with his story and later killed himself. A terminally-ill woman called from a hospice care center — “I’ve been holding this in my whole life.”

Many of the accusations involve those already identified by dioceses as “credibly accused” — there are 5,173 priests, lay persons and other clergy member that meet that standard, according to a recent AP tally. Those are the easy cases.

But many others are like Mercado’s, involving priests never accused publicly before, some long dead. And so that turns lawyers into cold-case investigators, calling retired Catholic school teachers and retired rectory staff, combing through yearbooks and, in Mercado’s case, tracking down missionary workers who went on the priest’s overseas trips.

“This type of case isn’t for every law firm. It’s not a hit-in-the-rear car accident,” Slater said. “There is work to be done.”

And money to be made. For his fee, Slater said he plans to ask for a full third of any awards his clients collect and he’s been spending in anticipation, hiring a half-dozen new paralegals, opening an office in New Jersey and breaking a wall in Long Island to make more room.

One of the lawyers eating pizza, Steven Alter, pushed back when asked if the people coming forward are just in it for the money.

“It’s not a cash grab,” he said. “They want to have a voice. They want to help other people and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“I haven’t had one person ask me about the money yet.”

___

This is the day the Catholic Church has long feared.

The church spent millions of dollars lobbying statehouses for decades, arguing it would be swamped with lawsuits if time limits on suing were lifted. That battle now lost, it is girding for Round Two, by turning to compensation funds and bankruptcy.

Compensation funds offer payment to victims if they agree not take their claims to court. They offer a faster, easier way to some justice, and cash, but the settlements are typically a fraction of what victims can get in trials. And critics say the church is just using them to avoid both a bigger financial hit and full transparency.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan set up the first fund in 2016, pitching it as a way to compensate victims without walloping the church and forcing it to cut programs. It has since paid more than $67 million to 338 alleged victims, an average $200,000 each.

The idea has caught on in other states. All five dioceses in New Jersey and three in Colorado opened one, as did seven dioceses in Pennsylvania and six in California, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the U.S.

Such funds, Dolan said in a newspaper op-ed piece last year, “prevent the real possibility — as has happened elsewhere — of bankrupting both public and private organizations, including churches, that provide essential services in education, charity and health care.”

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League and a longtime critic of the new statute-of-limitations laws, said their effect — if not their intent — “is to disable the church.”

“When a diocese goes bankrupt, everyone gets hurt,” he said.

But bankruptcy has become an increasingly more common option. Less than a month after New York’s one-year lookback window took effect, the upstate Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy, the 20th diocese or religious order in the country to do so, listing claims from alleged abuse survivors and other creditors as much as $500 million. Assets to pay that are estimated at no more than one-fifth that amount.

The Diocese of Buffalo may be next. It has begun paying victims of the 100 priests it considers “credibly accused” of abuse, tapping proceeds from the sale of a lavish $1.5 million mansion that once housed its bishop who is facing pressure to resign.

When a diocese files for bankruptcy, lawsuits by alleged abuse survivors are suspended and payments to them and others owed money — contractors, suppliers, banks, bondholders — are frozen while a federal judge decides how much to pay everyone and still leave enough for the diocese to continue to operate. It’s orderly and victims avoid costly and lengthy court cases, but they often get less than they would if they were successful in a trial.

A recent Penn State study of 16 dioceses and other religious organizations that had filed for bankruptcy protection by September 2018 found that victims received an average settlement of $288,168.

Bankruptcy can also leave abuse survivors with a sense of justice denied because the church never has to face discovery by plaintiff lawyers and forced to hand over documents, possibly implicating higherups who hid the abuse.

For many of his clients, Slater said, the fight in court is crucial because they want to expose the culture behind the crime, not just out a single priest.

“They want to see how the church allowed them to be abused, how they ruined their lives. The church is solely in possession of the information and there is no other way to get it,” he said. “It’s a different process in bankruptcy — you don’t get discovery and you don’t get it in compensation programs. The truth never comes to light.”

Other church tactics in the past few months could be a harbinger for the future.

In July, the Archdiocese of New York sued 31 of its insurers, fearing they would balk at paying all the new alleged victims.

And just last month, church officials on nearby Long Island sought to throw out New York’s new statutes of limitations law in sex abuse cases, arguing it violates the due process clause of the state constitution. The Diocese of Rockville Centre contends time limits to file suits can only be extended in “exceptional circumstances,” such as when plaintiffs are unable to file because they are abroad in a war zone.

Another pair of long shot cases are being closely watched because of the obvious financial implications. Five men who claim they were sexually abused by priests when they were minors filed suit in Minnesota earlier this year contending some of the responsibility rests with the world headquarters of the church — the Vatican. Then came another abuse suit last month in Buffalo accusing the Vatican of racketeering.

The Vatican is a sovereign state widely seen as off limits to abuse victims, but some lawyers say it’s time, especially now that U.S. dioceses are under attack, that it begins tapping its vast wealth.

Raymond P. Boucher, a veteran Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney, contends the Vatican’s legendary riches include stashes of art in vaults that could not possibly be exhausted “and still pay every single claim that anybody could bring in the United States.”

“They have them just in the vaults. They don’t even have to take anything off the walls.”

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