Catholic Church Thinks It Shouldn’t Have To Pay Fines For Abuse Because Of Religious Freedom

By Wendy Gittleson | 11 March 2015
Addicting Info

Cardinal Timothy Dolan allegedly transferred church funds into a separate trust in order to protect them from clergy abuse lawsuits. (Image: YouTube / screengrab)

For everyone who warned that the Hobby Lobby case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a retail store can have a religious exemption when it comes to covering birth control, would become a slippery slope – we’re sliding right to the bottom.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee is claiming a similar defense in its sex abuse cases, but only after they tried hiding the money from their victims first.

The accusations against the Milwaukee Archdiocese are particularly horrific. They involve 45 priests who are accused of molesting almost 200 deaf boys.

According to Think Progress, they first sealed the $55 million in funds from bankruptcy by putting it in a trust for cemeteries and mausoleums. They then tried the religious freedom defense. That worked at first, when a court ruled in 2013 that their religious freedom did shield them from paying victims.

On Monday, though, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the first court. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the victims will see the money, though. It will likely be appealed again.

The church is claiming that because the money is in a fund for cemeteries and mausoleums, they won’t be able to fulfill their obligation of servicing dead people if they are forced to pay for the people whose lives they’ve ruined.

Religious freedom became an issue after the archdiocese claimed that it had a Canonical obligation to “properly maintain in perpetuity” the cemeteries and mausoleums funded through the trust. If victims of sex abuse or other creditors are compensated out of these funds, the archdiocese says, “there will be no funds or, at best, insufficient funds, for the perpetual care of the Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries,” and thus the archdiocese claims that it will be unable to fulfill a religious obligation.

In rejecting this claim that the archdiocese has a religious right to spend the trust’s funds on burial places and only on burial places, the Seventh Circuit offers several reasons why religious freedom cannot trump the rights of the archdiocese’s creditors and those of its clergy’s victims. Perhaps most significantly, the court holds that the archdiocese’s religious liberty claim would fail even under the strictest level of constitutional scrutiny.

Source: Think Progress

The court ruled in a way I think the Supreme Court should have ruled in the Hobby Lobby case. They ruled that churches don’t get to opt out of paying Social Security taxes – that the public’s interest can supersede religious freedom:

Drawing a comparison to a Supreme Court decision holding that religious objectors may not opt out of Social Security taxes, the court notes that federal bankruptcy law, like Social Security, “’serves the public interest by providing a comprehensive … system with a variety of benefits available to all participants’ nationwide.” Just as Social Security “aids those who have reached a certain age or are disabled, the Code aids those who have reached a certain financial condition and who need assistance repaying or recovering a debt.”

The court warns that if this becomes precedent that there’s no telling where it will end. Anyone at anytime can join or create a cult just to “gain economic advantage.” I would argue that the Hobby Lobby ruling could do something very similar. Businesses can use their own religious beliefs, no matter how bizarre, to discriminate or to violate laws.

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  1. I really cannot see how the right to religious freedom can absolve the Catholic Church from its responsibility for the abuses on vulnerable children/people that were not only perpetrated by Priests working for the church but also were protected by the church and therefore directly encouraged the abuses. Does the right to religious freedom extends to the right to abuse vulnerable children/people? Is this just an excuse to run away from their responsibility to the victims? I think the Catholic Church can run but it can not hide forever. The earlier the church accepted responsibility and compensated the victims the better and less stress to the victims, their families and friends. There is no such rights to abuse vulnerable children/people.

  2. Led by Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church is being cleansed of paedos and other sexual criminals.

    The Church has also carried out a financial reform which has increased financial transparency dramatically.

    In practice this means sanctions are being introduced against criminals, with their benefits/rights curbed dramatically.

    Since most members of the clergy are innocent and weren't even aware of these crimes, it is only the criminals that should be paying compensation to the victims. Whether this is feasible (do they have money/other assets?), I don't know. In any case crime needs to be stopped and it is stopped.

    As the Church has an aging population to look after, they could perhaps involve members of the laity, and in co-operation, provide fee based counseling against drug/substance abuse, relationship/marriage counseling, LGBT counseling, life/time management etc.

    I am sure their vast knowledge would be greatly appreciated.

    • The church has used its institutional structure to protect known pedophiles. This means the church, the institutional structure itself, is a criminal organization. The fact that they are raping deaf children rather than extorting money from small business owners doesn't change the fact that this is organized crime.

    • No..not buying that…senior members of the Catholic Church knew what was going on with priests…senior members were involved in it…a corrupt institution that no amount of marriage counselling or drug abuse talks will put right…if they can’t do the time, they shouldn’t do the crime…

    • If you seriously think think Pope Francis is going to sort this issue out when he’s be covering up himself …not a hope in hell.

  3. "Since most members of the clergy are innocent and weren't even aware of these crimes" !!!! The pope himself knows what is happening, he does nothing to stop it therefor he is as guilty as the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. The body of the church is responsible for the acts of it's 'employees' and with that should be made to pay as would be the case in corporate crimes. They show their guilt by the fact of trying to hide behind religious freedom laws and stashing the money away where 'lawfully' it cannot be used for compensating victims. For such a 'loving, caring' community the church shows it's love of money above any compassion for human suffering, And for your information I speak as a survivor of abuse from the caring church.

    • The Pope was not Pope when these crimes occurred and you nor I know for sure if past Popes knew or not. There's a lot of assumptions being made, namely that all priests are pedos seems to be the unanimous chant by haters which is not at all true. We're not judge and jury, we don't know the details of what went on. We don't know if all victims are actually victims or just seeing dollar signs. This website is clearly biased "challenging religious privilege in public life" aka "we hate religion".

      • We do know as a matter of record that the Catholic Church as an institution has failed to investigate allegations, has used influence to avoid police investigation in many countries, has simply moved problematic priests from one diocese to another to avoid public scandal. Obviously not all priests are paedophiles, and while a minority of 'haters' may think so, we do know, Ryan, that you are speaking from a situation of prejudice, and would rather defend the paedophiles than the victims. Believing that an industry like the Catholic Church should contribute like any other industry is not hating the church, it is loving democracy. In Spain they are furious because while their places of cult are exempt from taxation, their money making properties have been avoiding paying taxes when they should, such as private schools and private hospitals and private aged care homes, and the government is making them pay. They regularly interfere in politics, despite the fact that there is meant to be separation of church and state. They were closely tied to the dictator and now under a thin veneer of democracy they are closely tied to ultra right wing political parties. Yes, there are good priests. I know one, he refused to go to military service as a conscientious objector, and he was expelled from the priesthood. They don't expel paedophiles but they expel pacifists.

  4. pope francis has repeatedly promoted clergy who covered abuse to high position in his Vatican empire.
    pope francis tried to protect his pedophile priest friend father grassi from going to prison.
    pope francis says and pretends on thing and does the other.
    if you look at the corruption and money laundering of the Vatican and the Vatican bank it appears that what they are really doing is hiding assets under layers of investments and paper work then they call in some financial "experts" who tell the world things have changed.. but all that has changed is PR firm…
    Last week several main business orgs including the Wall street journal said that pope francis cannot be credible if he does not arrest and hold accountable those who stole and hid money..
    If you watch closely you will see that he and his cronies care more about money paybacks and laundering than about protecting children from rapist priests (who incidentally are still abusing children)..

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