NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan authorized $20,000 payments to a handful of sexually abusive priests so they would immediately leave the Milwaukee archdiocese when Dolan was archbishop there nearly a decade ago, a church spokeswoman said on Thursday.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) first announced the payments on Wednesday upon discovering minutes of a March 2003 meeting of the Milwaukee archdiocese finance council meeting. SNAP is demanding full disclosure of all such payments.
Church officials confirmed the payments as approved in the minutes but archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said she had yet to determine how many priests received them, estimating the number at "a handful, a couple."
"This money has been characterized as bonuses or payoffs and that's simply not the case. In 2002 and 2003 when the clergy abuse crisis really came to a head, people were calling for priest offenders to be removed - get them out of there - and the church here agreed in order to expedite that process," Wolf said.
The payouts encouraged the abusive priests to voluntarily accept laicization, the process of turning an ordained priest into a lay person.
Had the priests contested laicization, it could have taken years during which time the priests would have received salary and benefits, Wolf said.
Dolan has become the face of the Catholic Church in the United States since moving from Milwaukee to New York in 2009, becoming president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2010 and being elevated to Cardinal by the Vatican earlier this year.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jackie Frank