This is a little thought exercise. Imagine that American Atheists had $57 million in their bank accounts (I know, I already broke your brain, but try. This is entirely imaginary and disconnected from reality.) Now imagine that we learned that American Atheists had been carrying out some criminal activity for the past decade…say, scamming little old ladies out of their pensions, or sending out roaming teams of atheist thugs to beat up children and steal their lunch money (wait, now you’re having an easier time imagining that? Stop reading this blog, Christian.)
Then, they’re caught. Documents are uncovered that show long-term official support for these unethical behaviors. Retribution is to be delivered: the courts are about to enforce penalties, forcing American Atheists to give the money back to the little old ladies and children. Dave Silverman cunningly transfers all $57 million out of their bank accounts and into a new account labeled “Widows, orphans, and kitten trust fund” and declares that the money is no longer an American Atheist asset and therefore is not subject to any kind of seizure or penalty.
Now that you’re holding that improbable train of events in your head, ask yourself, “Would the courts buy it?” You can also ask yourself, “What would the public think of American Atheists and Dave Silverman?”
You would hope that the courts wouldn’t fall for such a transparent ploy, and you’d expect that the whole country would revile the organization.
You’ll be relieved to know that no, American Atheists has not perpetrated such a dastardly move (and, unfortunately, their pockets are not jingling with $57 million, ill-gotten or not). But guess who has?
Replace “American Atheists” with “the Catholic Church” up there, and substitute Cardinal Timothy Dolan for Dave Silverman. Are you surprised that the courts fell all over themselves to exempt the Catholic church from punishment?
A federal judge in Wisconsin handed down an opinion yesterday granting the Catholic Church — and indeed, potentially all religious institutions — such sweeping immunity from federal bankruptcy law that it is not clear that it would permit any plaintiff to successfully sue any church in any court. While the ostensible issue in this case is whether over $50 million in church funds are shielded from a bankruptcy proceeding triggered largely by a flood of clerical sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Judge Rudolph Randa reads the church’s constitutional and legal right to religious liberty so broadly as to render religious institutions immune from much of the law.
The case involves approximately $57 million that former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan transferred from the archdiocese’s general accounts to into a separate trust set up to maintain the church’s cemeteries. Although Dolan, who is now a cardinal, the Archbishop of New York and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has denied that the purpose of this transfer was to shield the funds from lawsuits, Dolan penned a letter to the Vatican in 2007 where he explained that transferring the funds into the trust would lead to “an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”
That loud grunt you heard a couple of days ago was every skeevy televangelist, every child-diddling priest, and the entire hierarchy of the Catholic church having a simultaneous orgasm. Crime does pay if you’ve got a religious excuse.
One bit of hope:
Judge Randa, a George H.W. Bush appointee, has a history of being reversed by higher courts in cases involving hot button social issues, so there is a good chance that his opinion will ultimately be reversed on appeal. In the meantime, however, Randa effectively places the church above the law — and leaves what could be hundreds of sexual abuse victims in the cold.