| Dolan Sent Letter to Judge in Abuse Case
Prosecutors Say Archbishop Sought Leniency for Priest
By Tom Heinen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 15, 2003
Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan sent a letter of support earlier this year to a St. Louis judge on behalf of a priest who was facing sentencing for molesting a young boy.
Prosecutors characterized the letter as seeking leniency.
A Dolan spokesman said that the former St. Louis auxiliary bishop simply asked the judge to take into account the priest's ongoing therapy and remorse, and "assured the judge his prayers were with the judge" in making the sentencing decision.
Dolan, who was in charge of the St. Louis Archdiocese's response to clergy sexual abuse for several months last year before being appointed Milwaukee's new archbishop, had lived in the same parish rectory with the priest, Father Gary Wolken.
However, Dolan's letter pointed out that it was Dolan, as St. Louis' vicar for priests, who reported Wolken to civil authorities and who confronted Wolken with the allegations when the victim's family came forward, said Milwaukee archdiocesan spokesman Jerry Topczewski.
Topczewski declined to provide a copy of the letter, saying it was private.
Neither Dolan's letter nor one from Dolan's former boss, Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis, was entered into the official court record to be considered in sentencing, according to court officials and prosecutors.
It was unclear whether St. Louis County Circuit Judge John F. Kintz ever read the letters.
Kintz sentenced Wolken on Feb. 28 to 15 years in prison, less than the 20 years the prosecutors had requested, but more than any priest recently had received. Wolken pleaded guilty in December to charges of statutory sodomy and child molestation for acts that began in 1997 when the boy was 5 years old and continued over a three-year period while Wolken was baby-sitting for friends.
Wolken is a danger to the community and society, said Don Schneider, assistant to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch. "We were seeking justice for this victim, and, in our considered opinion, the guy needed to go to jail for 20 years. We're pleased that the judge gave him 15 years."
Prosecutor Rob Livergood, who handled the case, referred a reporter to Schneider for comment. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch previously reported Livergood as saying that Wolken should get a 20-year sentence because he was a pedophile needing 24-hour supervision.
David Clohessy, a resident of St. Louis and national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said SNAP members were grateful for Wolken's sentence but disturbed by what they saw as continued support of abusive priests by the hierarchy.
"Regardless of whether or not the judge considers letters like this, it's very hurtful for victims, who almost always come from devout Catholic families, to see and hear their spiritual leaders arguing to increase access to kids by molesters rather than decrease access to kids," Clohessy said.
"At least for that period of time (15 years), we know kids are safe. In many cases across the country, priests have gotten simply probation. As far as we know, this is the longest sentence of any St. Louis archdiocesan priest ever."
Clohessy said it was sad that church leaders say publicly that they handle sexual abuse cases differently now, but in private, "it's the same behaviors."
"It's especially frustrating because there is so little pastoral care to victims," said Clohessy, whose group has opposed Dolan's efforts to hold mediation sessions without allowing victims to have an attorney present.
Paul Fox, director of judicial administration for the St. Louis County courts, said that the judge presented some letters during a short meeting with the prosecution and defense attorneys, giving them the option of including them in the court record.
Schneider said he had been told that there were six or seven letters from priests, including letters from Rigali and Dolan.
"We don't have any letters currently," Schneider said. "I was advised that none of the letters were put in the court record."
Fox said the judge gave any unused letters to the attorneys.
Defense attorney J. Martin Hadican did not return a reporter's telephone call.
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