In a decision which could end up putting the Catholic Church above the laws of the United States, Federal Judge Rudolph Randa has given the Church sweeping immunity from federal bankruptcy laws. This move would largely result in the Church being immune from being prosecuted or sued for hiding child molesting priests.
Randa, a George H.W. Bush appointee, has a long history of having his rulings overturned by the higher courts.
The issue at stake was whether or not more than $50 million in Church funds at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was immune from being seized by the Federal courts in response to lawsuits involving child molesting priests. Randa interpreted the Church’s constitutional and legal religious liberty rights in such a broad manner that it would render all religious institutions immune from any kind of law.
At the center of the case is the fact that the then-Archbishop of Milwaukee, Timothy Dolan, transferred from the archdiocese’s general accounts into a separate trust some $57 million to maintain the Archdiocese’s cemeteries. Dolan was elevated to the rank of Cardinal and is currently the Archbishop of New York and the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Dolan admitted in a 2007 letter to the Vatican that he was transferring the funds to the trust because it offered “improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” Those suing the Archdiocese want those funds put back into the general funds.
Randa cites a statement by the current Archbishop of Milwaukee saying that “the care and maintenance of Catholic cemeteries, cemetery property, and the remains of those interred is a fundamental exercise of the Catholic faith.” With that, he concludes that this is enough to shield that money from being used to pay people for the harm the Church did. He also explains that “if the Trust’s funds are converted into the bankruptcy estate, there will be no funds or, at best, insufficient funds for the perpetual care of the Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries.”
What is more, Randa makes it clear that he abdicates determining what is and is not substantial burden in the case declaring that “Archbishop Listecki’s declaration stands unopposed, and on the issue of religious doctrine, it is unassailable. Moreover, the issue of substantial burden is essentially coterminous with religious doctrine.”
ThinkProgress notes that “Nothing in [Randa’s] opinion would prevent a church’s officials from declaring that every single line in every single ledger kept by the church is mandated by the sacred word of God — and therefore every single dollar owned by the church is untouchable so long as the church engages in the kind of accounting gymnastics Dolan allegedly performed.”
Federal law, however, instructs that there can be substantial burdens on religious liberty so long as such a burden is “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.” Randa ignores this claiming that the “interests advanced by the bankruptcy system are not compelling.”
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee had some of the most egregious instances of child sexual abuse allegations including the fact that one priest was accuse of molesting roughly 200 deaf boys. To date, 45 Milwaukee priests have been accused of molesting children.