Lawyer: Ex-Wis. archbishop’s letter ‘smoking gun’

MILWAUKEE — A 2003 letter from then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan shows he was more concerned about the church’s reputation than the actions of an abusive priest, an attorney for nearly two dozen alleged Wisconsin sex abuse victims claimed Tuesday.

But the archdiocese that Dolan now heads said the letter does just the opposite and shows Dolan was deeply concerned and wanted the priest, Franklyn Becker, dismissed.

St. Paul-Minn.-based attorney Jeff Anderson obtained the letter, which he released Tuesday, as part of cases he handled in California involving Becker. Anderson has filed 14 lawsuits representing 23 victims against the Milwaukee archdiocese and more than 2,000 lawsuits against bishops and dioceses nationwide.

Dolan wrote the letter to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in May 2003, asking that Becker be defrocked after allegations of repeated sexual abuse of children that dated back to at least 1970. Dolan wrote the letter about two weeks after Becker was arrested in California for an alleged sexual assault there in the 1970s.

Dolan, who become Milwaukee’s archbishop in June 2002, wrote that a trial and possible civil lawsuits “make the potential for true scandal very real.”

Anderson called that statement a “smoking gun.”

“What this underscores is Dolan’s desire in concert with the Vatican to think about one thing: secrecy and preservation of their own reputation,” Anderson said. “There’s nothing in that or the actions they seem to have taken concerning Becker that are dedicated to anything but that.”

However, Dolan also wrote in the letter that, “In order that justice may be made manifest and healing of the victims and the Church may proceed, I am asking that Reverend Franklyn W. Becker be dismissed … ”

Dolan is now Archbishop of New York. Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling said Dolan acknowledged the victims in the letter, which he called a textbook example of how to deal with a priest-abuser.

“No attempt by Jeff Anderson or any other attorney to twist the Archbishop’s words can obscure the fact that, in a matter of months after becoming Archbishop of Milwaukee, Archbishop Dolan was taking decisive action against an abusing priest,” Zwilling wrote in an e-mail Tuesday to The Associated Press.

In the letter, Dolan said Becker was diagnosed as an “impulsive pedophile” in 1983. After another allegation, a psychological assessment was again done in 1996 that indicated “the potential for future recurrence of past behavior existed,” according to Dolan’s letter.

Anderson, along with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, took issue with the fact that Dolan became archbishop 11 months before he asked that Becker be defrocked – and it took the Vatican another 1 1/2 years to defrock Becker. They claimed Dolan only took action because of Becker’s arrest.

Ratzinger led the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith from 1981 until he became pope in 2005.

Zwilling said Becker had been restricted from exercising any form of ministry, “so it is absurd to suggest that no action was taken until he was arrested.”

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Dolan while he was in Milwaukee, said Dolan took action quickly from when he took over. He said Ratzinger’s office was inundated with requests from dioceses across the U.S. at that time and it tried to expedite these requests.

“It also doesn’t appear Ratzinger signed any of these letters or would have been directly involved in the case,” he said.