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That Weakland Settlement

Jul 24, 2002 | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It's hardly surprising that authorities were unable to find anything illegal in the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese's 1998 payoff to Paul Marcoux, who has accused former Archbishop Rembert Weakland of sexual abuse. Those who donate to the Catholic Church - or any denomination - usually do so without strings attached, and so religious authorities have the right to use the money as they deem fit - even to buy the silence of accusers.

But Harry John must be spinning in his grave. Were the conservative founder of the DeRance Foundation - what was once the world's largest Catholic charity - still alive, he would undoubtedly be outraged to see where some of his money has been so poorly spent.

Investigators discovered that the bulk of the $450,000 to buy Marcoux's silence came from funds the archdiocese received from the sale of a building donated by the

DeRance Foundation in 1992. The John family decided in 1994 that none of its funds should be used to pay for sexual abuse settlements, but since that didn't cover the earlier donation of the building, there was nothing illegal about using money from the proceeds to pay off Marcoux.

But while authorities have found nothing illegal about the payoff, the incident does suggest that the archdiocese might at least want to look at its procedures for handling such payments. And there's no better time than the present, with a new archbishop due to be installed at the end of next month.

Only Weakland, Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba and financial officer Wayne Schneider signed off on the payment. They undoubtedly thought they had good reasons for doing so. But had more people been involved in the process, they might have provided better insights and come to different conclusions. Or they might have come to the same conclusions.

But at the very least, moving now to involve more people would give the archdiocese some credibility at a time when that commodity is in precious short supply in the eyes of much of the public. It's something incoming Archbishop Timothy Dolan and other church authorities might at least want to think about.

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