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Dolan’s Lenten Letter Points the Finger of Blame Everywhere but at Himself

In a letter sent to Archdiocese of New York parishioners this week celebrating the first week of Lent, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan took time to marginalize child sex abuse survivors and blame his insurance company for ignoring their “moral imperative” and stalling the legal process.

This is completely unacceptable.

The text of the letter, which is framed as a message from Cardinal Dolan to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of New York on the finances of the Archdiocese, says:

Finally, another word about the Child Victims Act. We are still assessing what the economic impact will be on the archdiocese, although it is likely to be extremely significant. Cases continue to be filed, and we are anxious to reach just settlements with those who have meritorious claims, just as we already did through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. We are prayerful and hopeful that our primary insurance carrier recognizes the moral imperative to resolve meritorious suits as soon as possible though unfortunately we have met resistance in our effort. We will continue to press and will report back soon.  

There are numerous problems with Dolan’s tone-deaf statement here. His use of the word meritorious in reference to some survivors’ lawsuits under the Child Victims Act is particularly problematic—even the church’s own experts have said that frivolous allegations are extremely rare, if not almost nonexistent. Meeting the burden of proof to file a child sex abuse lawsuit is not easy, and every brave survivor has had to relive trauma, pain, and abuse in order to ensure that what happened to them will not happen to another child. The men and women who have filed lawsuits have withstood shame, self-blame, doubt from family and friends, rejection, and the life-long injuries that come with child sexual abuse. For Dolan to minimize their brave battle and marginalize survivors by suggesting that claims are not “meritorious” is blatantly wrong, hurtful, and damaging to survivors, as well as children being abused today.

This alone should be enough to call the integrity of Dolan’s letter into question, but he takes his argument a step further: blaming his insurance company for stalling the legal process in New York’s civil courts. The only entity stalling the civil justice process and not meeting the “moral imperative” is the Archdiocese of New York. It’s the Catholic Church in New York, under Dolan’s direction, who spent millions of dollars in an attempt to defeat the Child Victims’ Act. It’s the Archdiocese—through IRCP administrator Ken Feinberg—who tried to get as many survivors as possible to sign away their civil rights in the secret IRCP process. It’s the Archdiocese who refuses to open its secret files to the public and tell Catholics exactly who abused children and who protected abusers. It’s the Archdiocese who trained, paid, transferred, and hid predatory priests for decades—with the full knowledge of bishops and cardinals.

The true moral imperatives here are accountability and justice, delivered to survivors in a compassionate and trauma-informed way. Dolan’s letter shows he is simply not up to the task.

It’s time to stop blaming insurance companies and survivors and point the finger of accountability where it belongs: right at the seat of power of New York’s Catholic Church. That’s how survivors heal and children are kept safer from ongoing abuse.

Anything short of that—like Dolan’s letter—is completely unacceptable.