The High Price of Privilege

[Content Note: This post contains references to rape and sexual abuse, to homophobia and misogyny, and to institutional privilege upholding the same.]

$20,000 a priest.

That, apparently, is the price for remaining a deeply privileged institution with the power to make accused rapists in your employ go away quietly:

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York authorized payments of as much as $20,000 to sexually abusive priests as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the priesthood when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee.

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

But a document unearthed during bankruptcy proceedings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and made public by victims’ advocates reveals that the archdiocese did make such payments to multiple accused priests to encourage them to seek dismissal, thereby allowing the church to remove them from the payroll.

If Dolan's name looks familiar to you, there's a reason. As head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he has been leading the charge for the Catholic Church to become an unoffical arm of the Republican party. Among other things, the USCCB has called for two weeks of prayer and "action" in support of the Church's attempts to overturn the law and deny reproductive health services coverage for their uteri-bearing employees. They have also launched an investigation of the Girl Scouts and cracked down on American nuns for being insufficiently homophobic and misogynist. Dolan also strongly condemned Obama's support for same-sex marriage claiming that "The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better."

Yes, Cardinal Dolan. Our children definitely deserve better. They deserve better than to have a powerful societal institution quietly paying large sums of money to men who have raped the children entrusted to their care.

There will, predictably, be all kinds of justifications for this behavior; in the article a spokesperson claims it was a "cheaper" and "faster" solution to laicizing priests. But the fact remains: Cardinal Dolan, you paid off accused serial rapists. Yet you also oh-so-piously claim Catholic universities can't pay for birth control because that is "material cooperation with evil." You could see your way to an "act of charity" for serial child rapists. Yet you can't see loving same-sex parents as anything but threats to society. You censure nuns and Scout leaders for allegedly paying too much attention to the rights of women and LGBT*QI persons and girls and other vulnerable people in our society, but you have no problem keeping "unassignable priests" (suspected rapists) on salary.

I'm sure there will be plenty of pontificating (ha!) in defense of this particular "material cooperation" with evil, but let's face it: this horrific, self-serving hypocrisy is the stuff that fuels Reformations, schisms, and revolutions. Already, Catholic faithful are engaging in peaceful protest in support of the nuns you've rebuked. There are parishes rejecting the bishops' homophobia, because they know their leaders are in the wrong. Oh, I know that the Bishops will continue to enjoy the support of many US Catholics, but for those with doubts, this news will only reinforce the conclusion that something has gone seriously wrong with their leadership. Caring more for position and privilege than for the safety and well-being of children? Doesn't exactly sound like what Jesus would do.

Make no mistake: $20,000 was the price of the Church's payoff to abusive priests. But the true cost has not been paid in dollars, nor has it been paid by the Church. It has been paid in the pain and the suffering of the survivors of these crimes.

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