By Danielle Dawson and Riley Farrell
Advocates for sexual abuse survivors asked Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, to address the most recent saga in the Catholic Church’s series of abuse cover-up scandals.
Last month, four survivors of clergy sexual abuse accused Pope Benedict XVI of disregarding their reports. These incidents occurred while Benedict, 94, was Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany from 1977 to 1982, according to an independent report conducted by a German law firm. In a written response made Tuesday, the former pope said he did not mishandle the accusations. But, Benedict added, he did not help these victims when they came forward and he asked for clemency.
“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church,” the former Pope said in his statement. “All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate.”
In a demonstration outside the 1st Ave. offices for the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York (ADNY) on Wednesday, former clergyman Robert Hoatson urged Dolan to speak out against Benedict’s inaction.
Hoatson, who was a priest for 45 years with the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, held neon green signs that read “Pope Benedict: A Moral Failure. Like all church leaders” as he spoke to the institution’s history of enabling predatory behavior by members of its clergy.
Canon law, which governs the church and its proceedings, requires diocesan record-keeping to remain secret, according to the Vatican. Records of parishioners’ complaints against clergymen are kept among these files.
Dolan has issued statements regarding accusations against clergymen in the past — most recently in response to a 2020 report about accusations levied at former Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. One of the offenses detailed involving McCarrick occurred while he was a priest in New York.
“[McCarrick] was immensely talented at deceiving, manipulating, charming, lying, and it worked,” Dolan said during his weekly Sirius XM radio show, Conversations with Cardinal Dolan.
Dolan has remained quiet since the release of the report on the sexual abuse under Benedict at the Archdioceses in Munich and Freising. Joseph Zwilling, the spokesperson for Dolan and Director of Communications for ADNY, said the Cardinal will not be commenting on Hoatson’s demonstration.
“You spoke out about McCarrick, because it was so obvious that you had to say something,” Hoatson said when asked about what he would tell Dolan. “Now, you should be saying something about Benedict.”
Dolan has been accused of covering up sexual abuse under his leadership. Documents released in a 2013 investigation into the final days of Dolan’s tenure at the Archdiocese in Milwaukee show a transfer of funds that Jeff Anderson, attorney for victims of clergy in that pontifical jurisdiction, claimed was indicative of efforts to avoid priest accountability.
Dolan was also named in a lawsuit filed with the New York State Supreme Court last year by a former seminarian, Anthony Gorgia. Gorgia exchanged eye contact with another seminarian as he witnessed the classmate engage in “grooming activity” at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, according to the suit. Then, five days before Gorgia was supposed to return for his second semester, he learned via a letter from Dolan that his admission to the seminary was rescinded. The case was initially dismissed by the court, however, Gorgia has since filed an appeal.
“It’s ironic that Cardinal Dolan is preaching morality when he’s covered up wholesale abuse for decades,” said Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney who represented sexual abuse victims in the Boston area during the 2002 Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal.
“Dolan, along with Benedict, has set an example for covering up clergy sexual abuse,” Garabedian continued. “They supported [pedophile priests] when they should be supporting the victims.”
In 2018, Dolan openly argued against a proposed amendment to the statute of limitations in New York for cases of sexual abuse, which later became law, that was introduced to empower victims to come forward.
While he wrote in an op-ed that he was in favor of a “Child Victims Act,” he suggested implementing a program similar to the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program run by ADNY. The initiative offers financial settlements to the survivors of sexual abuse by clergy as an alternative to lawsuits, said Zwilling.
Since the Boston Globe Spotlight investigation in 2002, the church has been marred by accusations like those levied against Benedict. New York City-based Catholic missionary Zoe Tarasiewicz said this news impacts the way others view her religious affiliation, but ultimately does not affect her own beliefs.
“Even though there are leaders in the church who have been horrible, I don’t put my faith in them,” Tarasiewicz said. “I put my faith in what the church should be, not what it is.”
Hoatson is a co-founder of a nonprofit organization, Road to Recovery, which supports victims of abuse by members of the Catholic Church. Hoatson started the organization in 2003 while still practicing priesthood and says his supervisors ordered him to cease operations. Hoatson left the Church in 2011, after the clergy suspended him from the ministry. His salary and benefits were slowly withdrawn, said Hoatson.
“The Church is never going to change,” Hoatson said. “It’s corrupt to the core, from the Vatican down to New York City.”
Both Hoatson and Garabedian spoke to the immense trauma that victims of sexual abuse can endure, causing social isolation, shame and — in some cases — contemplation of suicide. But both acknowledged the power of changemakers up against the Church.
“Bob’s voice is very impactful,” Garabedian said of Hoatson. “Activism encourages victims to come forward when they otherwise would not.”
This story is the work of a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Other news organizations are welcome to publish this story as long as they adhere to these guidelines.