Dolan Wrote Ratzinger in 2003 Seeking Defrocking of Pedophile Priest

By Annysa Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 1, 2011

Former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan sought to have notorious pedophile priest Franklyn Becker defrocked in May 2003 in a letter to future Pope Benedict XVI, saying Becker's recent arrest in a California abuse case "make the potential for true scandal very real."

Attorneys for Wisconsin sex abuse victims, who hope to depose the current New York archbishop as part of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's pending bankruptcy, released the letter on Tuesday in an effort to show that Dolan - like Archbishops William Cousins and Rembert Weakland before him, they argue - was more concerned about the church's reputation than the actions of an abusive priest.

"It underscores the whole ethos, the whole desire to keep secrets and avoid scandal," said St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who posted the documents Tuesday on his website, www.andersonadvocates.com

A spokesman for Dolan said the letter "demonstrates a textbook example of how to deal with a priest-abuser."

"The priest was restricted from ministry, a request was made to the Vatican that he be immediately removed from the priesthood, and the significant 'impact on his various victims' was acknowledged," spokesman Joseph Zwilling said in an e-mail to the Journal Sentinel.

Becker, 73, of Mayville, is among a number of priests named in the civil fraud lawsuits pending against the archdiocese in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, saying it was the only way to adequately compensate victims and continue with the mission of the church.

Anderson and victims advocates believe the timing of the bankruptcy filing was intended to block a planned deposition of newly retired Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba, whose testimony, Anderson said, "would blow the lid off" an alleged coverup by the archdiocese of dozens of abusive priests.

The documents released Tuesday are among hundreds of pages turned over in 2008 as a result of a $16.65 million settlement by the Milwaukee Archdiocese of a California lawsuit involving Becker.

According to the documents, which church lawyers had fought to keep secret, the archdiocese knew of problems involving Becker dating to his seminary days in the 1960s. Bishops tried repeatedly to get him help, but Becker reoffended each time, sometimes while still in therapy.

He was accused of - and in some cases admitted - sexually abusing nine minors between 1966 and 1982, according to documents Dolan sent to the Vatican. Becker admitted a recent relationship with a boy in a 1980 letter to then-Archbishop Rembert Weakland and was diagnosed as a pedophile in 1983, the documents show.

He was restricted from ministry in 1993 and again in 2002, though he was allowed to help out in three Dodge County parishes as recently as 2002. The Vatican laicized Becker in November 2004, 18 months after Dolan's request.

The documents include an exchange of letters between Dolan and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's secretary at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith discussing what should be done about Becker.

The secretary petitions Dolan to ask Becker to voluntarily seek laicization, but agrees to remove him if the priest declines to do so.

Dolan wrote to the Vatican two weeks after Becker was arrested on sex abuse charges in California.

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Dolan and his successor, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, defended the timing, saying Dolan sent requests seeking laicization of Becker and other abusive priests relatively quickly considering he'd just arrived in Milwaukee the previous August. And he rejected Anderson's interpretation of the "true scandal" reference, saying its meaning in the church is different than in secular society."

Catholic teaching holds that scandal is anything that leads others to sin, including acts that would cause them to turn away from their faith.

"The scandal is a concern for the people, not the church," said Topczewski.

The national advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests issued a statement calling the actions by Dolan and the Vatican slow and selfish.

Its Midwest co-director, Peter Isely, questioned why the archdiocese never reported Becker to civil authorities. And he challenged the church's semantic defense of "scandal.""What they're saying is even worse .?.?. that if people knew the truth - that they cared more about him being a priest than they did about children - that it would cause them to seriously question their faith," said Isely.

"And if you begin to question that, you're going to question the power structure and hierarchy of the church."


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