May 31, 2012 -- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the archdiocese of New York is keeping quiet today after his old diocese, the archdiocese of Milwaukee, confirmed that under his leadership the church paid individual sums of $20,000 to priests accused of molesting children.
Dolan, who became a cardinal in February and serves as the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is recorded discussing the payments in the minutes of financial committee meetings in 2003, documents released as the Milwaukee archdioecese goes through bankruptcy court in Wisconsin.
The archdiocese of Milwaukee confirmed to the Associated Press Wednesday that the church paid the priests money to voluntarily sign papers to leave the priesthood because it was cheaper and faster than removing them by other administrative routes, which would have included going through the Vatican.
"In 2002, the Church affirmed that priest offenders should no longer be functioning as priests in any capacity and having someone seek laicization voluntarily is faster and less expensive and it made sense to try and move these men out of the priesthood as quickly as possible," Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf told local news station WTMJ-TV.
The Milwaukee diocese did not return calls from ABC News today seeking comment.
According to Peter Isely, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the payments are tantamount to "bonuses" paid out to child rapists and molestors.
"I don't know any other organization that when you're fired from your job because of a criminal act, you get paid to leave your job," Isely said. "Obviously something is profoundly wrong with this system that they say is fixed. You're paying off a child rapist; you're giving them a bonus check; it's a bonus basically."
The archdiocese contested that claim, saying the payments were used to quickly move suspected pedophiles out of the priesthood, according to the AP. Spokeswoman Julie Wolf said the payments were to help the men transition to lay life without completely losing access to needs such as health care.
Dolan declined to comment on the matter, but the archdiocese of New York told ABC News today that Dolan "has read and supports the statements that came out of Milwaukee."
Isely said that up until at least 2010, priests accused of pedophilia were still being paid the money, typically divided into two payments of $10,000 - one when they began the process of laicization, and one when they completed it.
Dolan left the Milwaukee archdiocese in 2009 to become archbishop of New York, the second largest diocese in the country, and in 2010 became the head of the conference of bishops, the most visible Catholic role in the country. Isely, of SNAP, wondered if Dolan now presided over similar arrangements in other dioceses.
"Is this a nationwide policy by U.S. bishops to pay off priests? To dump them quietly into the community, and when they do this, they don't tell people who these individuals are," Isely said.
Months after Dolan left Milwaukee, the archdiocese there filed for bankruptcy, after more than 570 alleged victims came forward claiming abuse by priests.