Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, will be deposed on Wednesday afternoon by lawyers representing hundreds of people who say they were sexually abused by priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where Cardinal Dolan served before his appointment to New York in 2009.
Cardinal Dolan is one of two American cardinals who are being deposed in sexual abuse lawsuits this week, and who plan to travel to Rome next week in advance of the proceedings to elect the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who stunned the world last week with the announcement that he was resigning effective Feb. 28.
The other American is Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles. He is expected to be deposed on Saturday in Los Angeles, and has been under fire since the court-ordered release last month of 12,000 pages of internal church files revealing his role in shielding accused priests from the law.
Cardinal Dolan has been much discussed as a possible candidate for pope. The cardinal, who is the president of the American bishops conference, is a charismatic figure at ease in parishes as well as in morning talk show studios, and he left a strong impression in the Vatican last year with speeches promoting what the church calls the “new evangelization.”
But since coming to New York, he has been dogged from time to time by the legal cases in Milwaukee. His successor, Archbishop Jerome Listecki, opted to have the archdiocese declare bankruptcy in 2011, saying that bankruptcy would be the best way to compensate all the victims, and for the church to move forward. Milwaukee was the eighth Catholic diocese in the United States to seek bankruptcy protection because of abuse lawsuits.
In the Milwaukee Archdiocese, 575 people filed claims saying that they were abused, over many decades, by Catholic clergymen. About 70 said they were victims of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who, church records show, admitted that he molested deaf students at a boarding school outside of Milwaukee, according to Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in St. Paul who represents 350 of the 575 plaintiffs.
The bankruptcy negotiations fell apart last year when the archdiocese argued that many of the 575 cases were beyond Wisconsin’s statute of limitations. Lawyers for the victims argue that previous archbishops, including Cardinal Dolan, intentionally stalled and kept allegations quiet so that the cases would fall beyond the statute of limitations.
Mr. Anderson, who is taking the deposition of Cardinal Dolan on Wednesday, said he had already deposed a former Milwaukee archbishop, Rembert G. Weakland, and Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba.
“The deposition of Cardinal Dolan is necessary to show that there’s been a longstanding pattern and practice to keep secrets and keep the survivors from knowing that there had been a fraud committed,” Mr. Anderson said.
The Milwaukee Archdiocese said in a recent court filing that it had spent $9 million so far in legal fees and was almost broke. Bankruptcy creditors, who include those who say they were victims, accuse the archdiocese, under Cardinal Dolan, of shielding $55 million in assets in a cemetery trust. The archdiocese argued that those assets were set aside for Catholic burials, and should be protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
A spokeswoman for Cardinal Dolan at the Archdiocese of New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The New York Times