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.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic activism, not repentance for sexual abuse, is what forces clergy to resign

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, at a news conference on Nov. 5, 2018, in Cheektowaga, New York.

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The Roman Catholic bishop of Buffalo, New York, Richard Malone, became the seventh U.S. bishop since 2015 to be forced out of power for his role in covering up clergy sexual abuse cases. Malone resigned on Dec. 4, stating that his departure stemmed from a recognition that “the people of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed.”

By comparison, during the prior 35 years, only three U.S. bishops had resigned because of the scandal, even though there were more than 10,000 cases of clergy sexual abuse reported to the American bishops during that time.

In my research, I have found that this increase in bishop accountability is due not to an improvement in the Vatican’s protocols, but rather to the activism of local Catholic reform groups.

Start of survivor-advocacy groups

I study how survivors and their advocates have exposed the problem of clergy sexual abuse.

Survivors first went public with their stories of abuse in the 1980s. But other Catholics did not begin forming survivor-advocacy groups until 2002, when a series of reports detailing how Cardinal Bernard Law, then the archbishop of Boston, had protected more than 230 abusive priests.

Energized by the Boston Globe’s investigation, Boston parishioners founded Voice of the Faithful in 2002, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting clergy abuse survivors and increasing transparency in the Catholic Church.

Within months, Voice of the Faithful had grown into a national movement of 50,000 members organized into 220 local chapters. It was through their public protests and petitions that Cardinal Law was forced to resign in December 2002.

Voice of the Faithful erected a sign at a Denver hotel on June 15, 2004, where more than 250 U.S. Catholic bishops were meeting.

Seeking reforms, not revolutions

Voice of the Faithful’s rapid ascension came in part, sociologists have concluded, because their leaders were highly educated professionals with a proven track record as activists.

Founding Voice of the Faithful president James Muller, for example, was a recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which joined Soviet and American doctors during the Cold War. With Muller and other accomplished professionals in their leadership, Voice of the Faithful was able to quickly attract national media attention and financial support.

Most Voice of the Faithful members remained active Catholics, and they often used parish halls and Catholic campuses for their meetings and events.

Although some bishops decried Voice of the Faithful as radical, many Catholic intellectuals and priests discretely welcomed the movement. These priests opened their parishes’ doors to Voice of the Faithful members, but they didn’t sign petitions or write op-eds criticizing the bishops in their own diocese.

The group was never declared schismatic, and the top archbishops and cardinals in the United States met with its leaders from the very start. Several bishops also openly supported the group.

Its motto, “Keep the faith, change the church,” indicates how Voice of the Faithful worked toward specific reforms without upending the broader institutional framework of the Catholic Church. For example, they stressed the value of women’s leadership, but they did not demand that the Church begin ordaining women priests.

For Catholics who felt betrayed by their bishops – even if they were not sexually abused – Voice of the Faithful provided a mechanism to voice their dissatisfaction. Through listening sessions held in dioceses across the country, Voice of the Faithful provided more direct access to the cardinals and bishops. These sessions offered Catholics a glimpse of democratic participation, and they also helped shape the American bishops’ new policies to protect children.

Local Catholics and their role

Voice of the Faithful was unable to recruit “millennial” Catholics into its group, and its membership has declined as its baby-boomer base has aged. But new Catholic organizations continue to emerge.

In Buffalo, New York, a community of affluent and highly educated Catholics formed the Movement to Restore Trust in 2018. The group is led by executives in business, law and education, and they were the most powerful of several Catholic organizations in calling on Bishop Malone to resign.

Other Catholics in Buffalo staged protests and created an online petition demanding Malone’s departure. Borrowing a strategy that Catholic survivors began using in the 1990s, some parishioners placed protest notes instead of money into the weekly collection basket. The notes said they were withholding donations to the church until Malone stepped down.

Priests join groups in supporting survivors

Like Voice of the Faithful, the Movement to Restore Trust and other Catholic survivor-advocate groups in Buffalo have tried to work within the Church, maintaining close ties with clergy.

These strong relationships allowed Buffalo Catholics to eventually win the public support of their local priests.

At the Vatican abuse summit in February, former priest and survivor James Falfaluszczak appealed to Pope Francis to remove Malone from office. Falfaluszczak was trained alongside many of Buffalo’s accused abusers when he was a seminary student.

In September, the Rev. Bob Zilliox, head pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in the Diocese of Buffalo, recruited 12 New York priests to sign a letter of no confidence in Malone. Several days later, additional priests in Buffalo signed onto another campaign asking Malone to resign.

The courage of whistleblowers

These priests and survivor-advocates in Buffalo were also empowered by whistleblowers from Bishop Malone’s own staff.

In March 2018, Bishop Malone issued a press release naming 42 sexually abusive priests in the Diocese of Buffalo. In the following months, his executive assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, began leaking documents to journalist Charlie Specht, including the bishop’s full list of 117 suspected abusive priests. O’Connor also revealed that Malone had returned at least one suspected predator back into the diocese.

In September 2019, a second key whistleblower emerged in Buffalo. Malone’s priest secretary, the Rev. Ryszard Biernat, leaked audio recordings in which the bishop admitted to hiding a suspected abuser in order to protect his own reputation.

Holding bishops accountable

After O’Connor leaked diocesan files to the media, the FBI and the New York attorney general initiated their own investigations into Bishop Malone, adding to the pressure for him to resign.

Two sisters from Pennsylvania, Patty and Lara, are suing the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

This year, there has been an avalanche of new lawsuits filed by survivors across the country. Lawmakers in nearly half of the country’s 50 states reacted to the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report by changing their state’s laws for child sexual abuse.

In February 2019, legislators in New York enacted the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse to age 55. The new legislation also opened a one-year window for survivors of any age to file suit if they were abused prior to the new law taking effect.

Within the Diocese of Buffalo alone, the Child Victims Act resulted in more than 200 new clergy sexual abuse lawsuits filed by victims who were unable to seek justice under the prior laws.

Bishop Malone’s resignation represents the dramatic increase in Catholic support for survivors since 2002. No longer alone in their calls for bishop accountability, survivors now have the support of fellow Catholics, whistleblowers, their parish priests, state lawmakers and federal prosecutors.

Complete Article HERE!

EGR priest denies Communion to gay judge

Judge Sara Smolenski

by:

Judge Sara Smolenski, chief judge of the Kent County District Court, has been denied Communion at the church where she has been a parishioner for more than six decades because she is married to a woman.

It is a move that for many was the final straw in a pattern of behavior that has them calling for the removal of a priest — a priest who came to St. Stephen Catholic Church about three years ago.

In 1966, under the leadership of Rev. Msgr. Edward N. Alt, St. Stephen Catholic School became the first integrated Catholic school in Metro Grand Rapids and had a student body that was nearly 40 percent non-Catholic.

This tradition of inclusion and acceptance would be the essence of the school and the church for 50 years.

But now, some here say that is changing.

“I’ve been a member of St. Stephen’s Catholic Parish for 62 years, basically,” Smolenski said.

Smolenski who has been on the bench for nearly 30 years, comes from a family of prominent community members, including her father who was also a district court judge, and her brother, a state appeals court judge.

“I was baptized there, my parents were married there, every one of my nine siblings went to school (from) first through eighth grade. We buried my parents out of that school,” Smolenski said. “This is a church that is a part of who I am. This is a church who helped form my faith.”

News 8 featured Smolenski in March of 2016, when she became the first Kent County elected official to marry someone of the same sex.

But it was just last Saturday that Smolenski got a call from the parish priest, Father Scott Nolan.

“The way he said it was ‘because you’re married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion,’ that’s how he said it,” Smolenski explained. “I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am, but it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ho-ho, not you.”

It was a devastating revelation for the lifelong Catholic who months earlier gave $7,000 to the parish building fund.

“Oh my gosh, I’m not going to get Jesus at the church I have devoted my life to,” Smolenski said, fighting back tears. “I thought of my mom and dad who devoted their whole life to raising us Catholic, spending all that money at the Catholic education.”

Smolenski was not the first person to be denied, according to a dozen people News 8 talked to Tuesday, including one same-sex couple who was denied the Eucharist during their child’s communion service.

“The public shunning — everything about it was offensive,” Smolenski said of the denial months before her own.

It is part of a pattern, according to Micki Benz, a 40-year member of the parish who is a part of a group of members who have decided to speak out.

They point to the words of Pope Francis who wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation.

Evangelii Gaudium, translates as “joy of the Gospel,” that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak and the church is not a toll house but a place for everyone.

“(Nolan) has eliminated teachers who are gay. He has made it clear that gay people are not welcome,” Benz said.

For a period of time, Nolan forbade non-Catholics from participating in church services, including choir and reading before the congregation, members say.

Parishioners met with Nolan and were hopeful that he was changing his ways, until last Saturday when the beloved judge was denied Communion.

Nolan talked to News 8 briefly Tuesday, promising he would speak on the issue but then did not call back or return messages.

There are those who believe Nolan is in the right, but they would not go on camera. Others with kids attending school would not go on camera due to fear of reprisal, but all say they love the church and want healing.

“I love the St. Stephen’s I knew. I don’t love the St. Stephen’s of now,” Smolenski said.

Some members say it would be better overall for the church to change pastors.

“We don’t see Father Scott changing; therefore we’ve come to the conclusion that it’d be better for him and us if there were a change in our pastors,” Benz said.

Some parishioners have drafted a letter to Bishop David Walkowiak, bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, explaining their position and asking for a meeting — a request he has not responded to in the past.

>> Inside WOODTV.com: Letter to Bishop David Walkowiak.

“We really, really want a meeting with him. Everybody is prepared to be very respectful. We just want him to know what this is doing to one of his parishes,” Benz said.

News 8 reached out to the Diocese of Grand Rapids who would not address the issue of whether Nolan’s actions are supported by the bishop.

A spokesperson did issue this terse statement presumably about what happened with Judge Smolenski: “This is a spiritual matter between her and her pastor.”

Smolenski says it is time to bring this into the light.

“I want to help somebody out there who’s never even been born to make their life a little bit easier — by standing up and speaking the truth,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

How Vermont’s Catholic Church stashed away a half-billion dollars in assets

The Cathedral of St. Joseph in Burlington. Seen on Friday, November 15, 2019.

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When Vermont’s Catholic Church recently came clean about its half-century-long history of child sex abuse claims against 10% of its clergy, many wondered how much money the state’s largest religious denomination had on hand to deal with a potential new wave of lawsuits.

The statewide Diocese of Burlington’s latest public financial statement lists $16 million in unrestricted net assets.

But that figure doesn’t include an estimated $500 million in property that church leaders stashed into trusts more than a decade ago to protect those assets from priest abuse settlements.

In the spring of 2006, then-Bishop Salvatore Matano began to see how much the scandal, first exposed by the Boston Globe, would cost the church.

The Vermont diocese had paid one accuser $20,000 to drop his court case in 2003. A year later, two more men demanded $120,000 and $150,000 respectively before they agreed to settle. In 2006, the church, facing a six-figure debt and a seemingly endless series of civil lawsuits, saw individual settlement claims rise to nearly $1 million.

That’s when Matano hatched an idea. The bishop told his attorney to place each of the diocese’s local parishes — some 130 at the time — into separate trusts whose holdings could only be tapped for “pious, charitable or educational purposes,” shielding the property from potential multimillion-dollar jury verdicts.

“In such litigious times, it would be a gross act of mismanagement if I did not do everything possible to protect our parishes and the interests of the faithful from unbridled, unjust and terribly unreasonable assault,” Matano wrote in a private letter to concerned Catholics.

Soon after, the diocese’s lawyer quietly sent a stack of two-page “deed into trust” form letters to municipal clerks throughout the state.

Although news reports revealed the diocese’s initial idea for shielding assets 13 years ago, details about how the church carried out the plan, what it stockpiled and where everything would lead haven’t been reported until now. As renewed scrutiny of priest misconduct raises new questions about the diocese’s capacity for future payouts, the trusts could soon be tested.

‘The information we have is sufficiently compelling’

Ever since 17th century Catholic explorer Samuel de Champlain inspired the name of the Green Mountain State — “Voilà les monts verts!” he reportedly exclaimed four centuries ago — the church has played a prominent role in Vermont history, boasting as many as 157,000 members as late as 1980.

But its reputation was besmirched when former residents of Burlington’s now-closed St. Joseph’s Catholic orphanage spoke publicly in the 1990s about enduring physical and psychological abuse during the facility’s operation from 1854 to 1974.

The diocese offered each orphanage resident $5,000 to drop their right to sue. As many as 160 considered the deal and more than 100 accepted payment, according to news reports from the time.

When the press reported on a statewide priest misconduct scandal in the early 2000s, church leaders used a similar strategy to keep survivors from talking.

The idea initially worked. In the fall of 2003, the diocese settled the first lawsuit for a small unspecified sum.

“I’m not going to tell you the amount, although it’s relatively low,” the accuser’s lawyer said at the time of a figure reported to be $20,000. “It was never about the money, it was getting the church to recognize what they did was wrong. We don’t think this is the end of the story. We think there are other victims out there.”

Other survivors weren’t as easily satisfied. A year later, the diocese settled two more cases for $120,000 and $150,000. The church also revealed it had spent more than $700,000 to squash earlier lawsuits dating back to 1950 and another $2 million for orphanage-related compensation, counseling and legal fees.

The diocese doesn’t have insurance for abuse cases and therefore must pay for settlements with assets on hand. (Church leaders stress they don’t tap regular collection money or the diocesan Bishop’s Fund for settlements.)

By 2005, more than a dozen people had filed lawsuits seeking liens on church property totaling up to $30 million.

“We believe the information we have is sufficiently compelling that seven-figure verdicts are quite likely,” their lawyer, Jerome O’Neill of Burlington, said at the time about the possibility of jury trials. “We want to make sure that there are sufficient assets available if we are successful in our actions.”

Former Vermont Catholic Bishop Salvatore Matano speaks in Chittenden Superior Court in 2008.

‘This was much more than we wanted to pay’

Soon after, O’Neill scored big when a judge ordered the Vermont Attorney General’s office to share the priest misconduct files it obtained from the diocese. The lawyer received hundreds of pages of paperwork chronicling the fact the church knew several of its priests had faced accusations of child sex abuse for decades but did nothing to alert the public or police.

By the spring of 2006, O’Neill had 17 new clients and a slate of trials set to start the day after Easter. What the public didn’t know: the first of those cases centered on claims against the former Rev. Edward Paquette, who secret files showed to be the worst serial predator of all the state’s clergy.

A court order restricted anyone involved from talking publicly. But privately, O’Neill and church leaders understood the value of the papers the lawyer held in his hands. If they were introduced in court, a shocked jury might award a survivor a multimillion-dollar verdict.

The church seemed ready to reject escalating settlement demands as Burlington’s Chittenden Superior Court screened jurors for the first Paquette trial in April 2006. Then the judge, gaveling in proceedings, announced the parties had forged a last-minute agreement for a record $965,000.

“This was much more than we wanted to pay,” the diocese’s lawyer said outside court. “But we decided that it would be the best to minimize the cost.”

Church leaders had hoped the settlement would keep the accuser from talking publicly. But once the court lifted its gag order upon the close of the trial, O’Neill — whose client hadn’t signed a nondisclosure agreement — surprised everyone by revealing all of the evidence.

The documents showed Vermont Catholic leaders knew two other states had dismissed Paquette for child sex abuse before they assigned him to Rutland in 1972, Montpelier in 1974 and Burlington in 1976.

“The dossier is large and the history long,” the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, had warned his Green Mountain State colleagues in a letter about the priest’s record of molesting boys.

For the first time, the public had a glimpse of what the diocese had covered up for decades.

‘Unbridled, unjust and terribly unreasonable assault’

By the first week of May 2006, the church, suddenly in debt more than $1 million and facing a rising number of lawsuits, was studying its financial options. It soon made headlines by announcing it wanted the judge who oversaw the $965,000 settlement to be barred from presiding over the remaining cases.

“The diocese has great concern over the lack of a level playing field,” its lawyer said at the time. “We’re not trying to hide anything. We’re trying to keep prejudice from building.”

Unbeknown to the public, another church attorney was mailing two-page form letters to municipal clerks to secure parish property into individual local trusts.

“This deed into trust shall operate as an assignment of all personal property, tangible and intangible, fixed or moveable, together with all accounts, funds, benefices and entitlements, related to the ownership, operation, management, control, preservation and use of the herein conveyed real estate,” each document says.

As outlined in the papers now on file in town clerk’s offices, the diocese’s bishop is the “trustee” of each trust, each parish pastor is the “trust administrator” and each parish finance council forms the “trust advisors.”

“Thus, the present diocesan protocols and regulations for the administration of parishes remain, in effect, unchanged,” Matano wrote in his private letter to concerned Catholics.

Speaking at a 2006 Mother’s Day reception at the Woodstock Inn, Matano told attendees the trusts were “an extra layer of protection” from anyone seeking to tap church assets.

“I’m really in a no-win situation,” he said. “I want to be sensitive to victims, but I don’t want to inflict pain on innocent parishioners. It’s certainly just to ask the church to be accountable, but is it just to destroy parishes, schools and other agencies of care to do so?”

Learning about Matano’s statement about protecting the church from “unbridled, unjust and terribly unreasonable assault,” the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest blasted the bishop for “attacking deeply wounded men and women who were raped as kids by priests.”

“How can you lash out at them and call their long overdue, David vs. Goliath effort an ‘unbridled, unjust and terribly unreasonable assault?’” survivors wrote in a letter to Matano.

‘It has a very serious impact on a small, rural diocese’

O’Neill responded more strategically. The lawyer, knowing the church doesn’t pay taxes and its properties aren’t listed at fair market value, sought assessments of the holdings’ true financial worth.

Former state economist Arthur Woolf reviewed insurance and municipal records to place a “market value” of all Vermont Catholic Church-related property at between $270 million and $500 million.

An insurance company, for its part, estimated the replacement cost of all parish, school and support buildings at $400 million, noting the number didn’t put a price tag on the underlying land.

Matano, who steadfastly confined his media comments to diocesan-run press outlets, defended the trust idea in a rare 2006 interview. Noting “this is not in any way intended to penalize victims,” the bishop said the plan was designed to reassure Vermont churchgoers who feared the potential loss of their parish holdings.

“They had no part in these awful events of the past,” he said. “I think it’s unfair to penalize them and say they are responsible.”

St. Stephen Catholic Church in Winooski. Seen on Friday, November 15, 2019.

Matano wasn’t the only Catholic official aiming to shield assets. U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, for example, was head of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2007 when he worked to move nearly $57 million in church holdings into a cemetery trust to protect them “from any legal claim and liability,” he wrote in a letter to the Vatican.

O’Neill believes the act of shifting assets into trusts broke Vermont’s fraudulent deeds law, which bars any transfer “with intent to avoid a right, debt or duty.” He filed state and federal cases in 2009, charging the diocese not only shielded parish property but also $3.8 million into a pension fund and another $3.7 million into a Vermont Catholic Charities account.

“You can’t take property you have, transfer it and then say it’s beyond the reach of your creditors,” the lawyer explains today.

Headlines about the trust plans soon gave way to news of more lawsuits, more settlements and a string of trials. Juries went on to slam the church with a record $8.7 million verdict in May 2008, a nearly $3.6 million verdict in December 2008 and a $2.2 million verdict in October 2009.

“It’s a very, very large amount of money,” Matano told reporters at the time. “It has a very serious impact on a small, rural diocese.”

To ensure the church paid, a judge placed liens not only on the 32-acre Burlington headquarters and the site of the former St. Joseph’s Orphanage but also a portion of its investment portfolio. By the start of 2010, a second judge overseeing more than two dozen additional lawsuits proposed merging the cases into an unprecedented joint trial.

The diocese, fearing bankruptcy, announced it wanted to settle rather than try to defend against the cases.

With most of its assets in the trusts, the church raised $10 million by selling its Old North End offices and campus — the largest open tract of land on the Lake Champlain waterfront in the state’s most populous city — to the alternative liberal arts Burlington College in 2010.

“This will be truly transformative for the college,” the school’s head, Jane O’Meara Sanders, said at the time.

That was not to be. Instead, the financial burden of the purchase led to the closing of Burlington College in 2016 and caught Sanders in a federal investigation as her husband, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, launched his first White House bid. A Justice Department review reportedly concluded last year without charges. But the resulting headlines — “Wife’s Failure to Save College Is Still Looming Over Sanders,” the New York Times reported on its front page this past summer — continue to reverberate through a second campaign cycle.

The former diocese headquarters is now the site of a 700-unit housing and business complex.

‘Who’s controlling the puppet strings?’

The diocese hoped it was finished with lawsuits, only to find itself again under scrutiny when 2018 BuzzFeed published an article titled “We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage.” The story led church and law enforcement leaders to launch separate misconduct investigations and the state Legislature to remove a statute of limitation restriction for survivors to file civil cases.

O’Neill has five new lawsuits pending.

“We’ll see if we can resolve them,” he says today. “If not, we go forward with litigation.”

The former St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage in Burlington where the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington used to be headquartered. Seen on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

Matano’s successor, Vermont Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne, isn’t looking for a fight. Calling for the church to be “fully honest about these sins of our past,” Coyne has released accusers from past nondisclosure agreements and worked with a local and state task force of police and prosecutors now investigating the history of church-wide misconduct.

“I think Bishop Coyne is trying to deal with the legacy problem of abuse,” O’Neill says. “I perceive him as someone who wants to be fair. But whether the amount of money the diocese has is adequate to resolve the cases remains to be seen.”

The diocese didn’t respond to calls for comment other than to report Coyne was away this past week at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops annual general assembly in Baltimore, Maryland. He’s returning home to a church that’s financially stable. But that could change if the latest lawsuits go to trial.

Settling what he thought were the last of the abuse cases long ago, O’Neill dropped his fraudulent deeds fight and allowed the six-year statute of limitations for contesting the issue to pass. But if a future jury awards a big payoff to one of his clients, the lawyer believes a judge could rule the parish trusts to be diocesan assets and therefore available for tapping.

“The fact the bishop is the trustee makes the trusts more vulnerable to attack,” he says. “You’d have to have a judgment before it became a real issue, but if the diocese is unable to pay, we will have no hesitancy to reach for those assets. The church may have transferred them, but who’s controlling the puppet strings?”

Not Matano. He left Vermont in 2013 to become bishop of the larger Diocese of Rochester, N.Y. — which recently became the 20th nationwide to seek bankruptcy protection from creditors impacted by church’s misconduct scandal.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Save Catholic church’ by lifting ban on female priests, activists say

Campaigners gather outside Vatican as church struggles with shortage of priests

Pope Francis has opened up discussion about women’s roles.

By

Campaigners have gathered in Rome to call for the lifting of a ban on female priests that would “save the Catholic Church” where it is failing to ordain enough men.

Activists from the Women’s Ordination Worldwide (Wow) group protested outside the Vatican on Tuesday as the church’s hierarchy pondered the idea of allowing married men in the Amazon to become priests in order to plug the shortage in the region.

The activists argue that ordaining women priests would solve the issue as effectively and should be prioritised.

”Empowering women would save the church,” said Kate McElwee, a Rome-based representative of Wow. “Our church and our Earth are in crisis – and empowering women in roles that they are already serving in their communities is a solution. We’re advocating for equality and that includes ordination.”

The church has been struggling with a shortage of priests for decades, particularly in Europe and North America, which have had sharp falls in church membership as well as devastating sexual abuse scandals. In some places, priests have been moved from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where the church is flourishing, to fill vacancies.

‌While Pope Francis has opened up more discussion about women’s roles and appointed women in key Vatican positions, the topic of them becoming priests is still very much taboo. A huge number of women serve within the church around the world, outnumbering men in some countries, but they are denied the privilege of voting at Vatican synods, such as the one on the Amazon currently taking place, because they are not ordained.

“The consequences of this massive injustice are far-reaching beyond the church,” said Miriam Duignan, from Wow’s unit in the UK. “It’s not just a matter of who stands at the altar each Sunday and blesses the bread … women are silenced and sidelined, and this has a tidal effect beyond the priesthood in terms of how women are seen.”

The campaigners, who held umbrellas to shield themselves from the afternoon sun, said they were often insulted during protests, with one Rome police officer telling them to move away and close their umbrellas because they featured a “women priests” slogan.

Their biggest fear over the idea of allowing married men in the Amazon to be ordained is that the many women who already carry out ministerial roles in the region could be supplanted by men.

“The church would not be alive in the Amazon if it wasn’t for women,” said Duignan. “They are undertaking priestly roles without having the title of priest.”

Pat Brown, also from the UK, said the situation for women serving the church in the developing world is more acute. “It’s not so bad for us but they suffer this misogyny: the church endorses sexism.”

The Amazon synod, which wraps up on 27 October, has discussed the role of women in the region, with Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the president of the synod, proposing that “a suitable ministry” be established for “women community leaders”. Many bishops have supported the ordination of married men despite criticism from more conservative factions.

The pope has previously said he would be open to allowing married men to be ordained in areas where there was a scarcity of priests, while maintaining the requirement for most priests to be celibate. He has also spoken about “allowing space for women in the church at all levels”.

As the event draws to a close, the Vatican on Tuesday lambasted the two extreme conservative Catholics who stole Amazonian statues from a church near the Vatican and dumped them in the Tiber River.

The wooden statues, which depict a pregnant woman and represent an indigenous Virgin Mary, were presented to the pope at the start of the synod but critics consider them to be pagan. Paolo Ruffini, the Vatican’s head of communications, said the theft was “a stupid stunt”.

The four statues were stolen from the Santa Maria in Traspontina church on Monday and the stunt filmed by the perpetrators.

“In the name of tradition and doctrine, an effigy of maternity and the sacredness of life was dumped in contempt,” said Ruffini, adding that the “violent and intolerant gesture” had “passed from hate on social media to action”.

Complete Article HERE!