Above the law

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.


  1. pianoman, Heathen & Torontophile says

    I am speechless!I am without speech!

    Absolutely outrageous.

  2. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    I am pissed…. but not suprised. And that just pisses me off even more.

  3. Rey Fox says

    The judicial system, unfortunately, is infested with Catholic criminal colluders. See also: Much of the Supreme Court.

  4. Sastra says

    Well Jeez — why limit this little trick to organizations, religious or not? Why not allow it for individuals? Anyone who commits any sort of crime for money can take their ill-gotten gains and put them into some sort of charity fund (or even donate it all away) the minute they sense the legal authorities sniffing around. It can even be a worthy cause which just happens to be chaired by your brother-in-law.

    Presto-chango! Clean as a whistle. Can’t touch me now.

  5. David Han says

    Why is anyone actually surprised! This is Catholic morality, abusing children through authority, receiving forgiveness from a sky fairy, then assuming no responsibility. They definitely know that they’re wrong, as they took the precaution of hiding their funds. The scary thing is that billions of people worldwide use this and similar institutions as examples of acting morally.

  6. smhll says

    I know nothing about law, but this smells like such a stretch that a higher court might reverse it.

  7. iknklast says

    Of course, other large corporations have been doing this for a long time, in cases involving civil damages awarded, often involving environmental or wrongful death suits. If you are rich enough and unscrupulous enough to find yourself in such a situation, there is always a way to avoid getting your just deserts (and the pope has probably given him a special dispensation to shoot him directly through purgatory to the highest level of heaven instantaneously upon death, which is one thing corporate malefactors don’t get. They only get a golden parachute that will allow them to live among the filthy rich for as long as they live).

  8. says

    I used to joke that La Cosa Nostra was a front for the CC, but there are things even the Mafia won’t do.

    I see a sudden proliferation of churches ahead.

  9. says


    God helps those that help themselves.

    WWMDD (what would Mr. Deity do?)

    There’s a joke about a man of a certain faith who prays to the Master of the Universe every night that, because he has been a faithful servant his whole life, he ought to win the lottery. For years he prays daily without fail. One night he hears a voice that says, “Morrie, I have heard your prayers these many years and I will grant your wish, but there is something you must do for me first.”
    “Yes Lord, anything, what is it?”
    “You must buy a lottery ticket.”

  10. sigurd jorsalfar says

    I’ve always had a problem with the way US courts treat freedom of religion as a right that belongs to religious institutions and not one that belongs solely to individuals.

  11. timmyson says

    Why not take this to the logical conclusion: Anyone operating as a religious official is above the law.

    “Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I was hungry and stole $5 from the collection plate to eat.”
    “No” BLAM!

  12. Moggie says

    Everyone keeps saying how lovely the new pope is, so I’m sure he’ll see the injustice of this and sort it out really quickly. Right?

  13. hunter says

    How about criminal charges against Dolan, the present archbishop, and all the priests involved? There are ways to be sure this doesn’t go away.

  14. Jeff D says

    Note that the District Court’s decision (http://thinkprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/church-bankruptcy-opinion.pdf) reversed the Bankruptcy Court not only on First Amendment grounds, but also by applying the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which, like DOMA, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton (His ingenious “political triangulation” produced as many terrible results as good ones, IMHO).

    I do not practice bankruptcy law, and I can’t say whether Judge Randa’s legal analysis is flawed in how it allows the RFRA to trump the bankrtupcty code and the power of a trustee or a creditors’ committee to go after assets of the debtor that were fraudulently transferred away at a convenient time.

    The likelihood of a reversal of this decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is not as high as it might seem (if we were just to apply everyday logic and human decency). There are judges on the 7th Circuit who have shown, time and again, that they will bend over backwards and use procedural dodge and ploy after dodge and ploy to reach a result that favors organized religion (or the meddling of religion in politics) over the rights of ordinary citizens.

    This opinion and order does not give the Catholic Church or any particular church officials immunity from tort lawsuits by private individuals. But if upheld, it would limit the ability of government (such as bankruptcy courts and trustees) from successfully chasing after and “capturing” assets that a diocese or particular church leaders tried to hide through fraudulent or questionable transfers.

    P.S. There is so much fawning exposition about Catholic belief in the opinion that it’s hard not to infer that Judge Randa is a good, loyal Catholic boy.

  15. lobotomy says

    If challenged on this the Mother Church will simply explain to the nice judges that the old bad money was transubstantiated into different good money that is not subject to their laws. Its a miracle!

  16. Ezra Pound says

    Yes indeed: the CC was infiltrated long ago by communists, atheists, usurers, liberals, modernists and homosexuals and they have destroyed the credibility of the Church through their criminal behaviors, no doubt about it. The solution, however, is not to bad-mouth the only institution founded by that obscure Palestinian philosopher we all know and love, Jesus Christ, Messiah and Logos; the solution is purge the Church hierarchy of liberals, modernists, usurers, Communists, atheists and homosexuals.

  17. Sven says

    It kinda undermines their whole persecution complex when the courts grant them such a sweeping immunity to law.

  18. Rich Woods says

    @Jeff D #17:

    There is so much fawning exposition about Catholic belief in the opinion that it’s hard not to infer that Judge Randa is a good, loyal Catholic boy.

    And of course that means he can hand down a judgement which he knows is wrong without fear of any meaningful backlash, because his parish priest will expunge his guilt at his next confession.

  19. says

    transferred from the archdiocese’s general accounts to into a separate trust set up to maintain the church’s cemeteries

    What are they doing with those tombstones, gold-plating them?

  20. says

    My ex raised the kids Catholic. I’m happy to say that their indoctrination has been minimal.

    I used to ask her why the members put up with amazing bullshit at the local levels, and why they didn’t remind the clergy who was the client and who the provider. I never got an answer of any kind. Lemmings all.

  21. ombak says


    While corporations do this kind of thing too (diverting/hiding assetsto avoid payouts) there is a legal recourse that allows you to chase these assets (I think this is referred to as “piercing the corporate veil”).

    As pointed out by Jeff in 17 is that the Church isn’t being made immune to any damage claims, but they are being told “if you claim the funds are for religious use they can’t be touched.” So courts can chase after the assets all they want, but if they find them and those assets are designated for some religious purpose then tough luck. It’s a joke of an opinion from a moral standpoint.

  22. kagekiri says

    @20 sven:
    Nah, dramatic provisions from God to relieve the oppression/consequences are also part of their narrative.

    “It’s a miracle! God is protecting/forgiving his church from its oppressors/for its sins!”

    See also: stories about praying really hard after getting pulled over for speeding, and then not getting a ticket.

  23. Owlmirror says

    Obvious Troll is Obvious:

    Yes indeed: the CC was infiltrated long ago by communists, atheists, usurers, liberals, modernists and homosexuals

    Because communists, atheists, usurers, liberals, modernists and homosexuals are all stronger than God?

    I note that, for someone using the cognomen you’ve chosen, you’ve mysteriously left off the Jews.

    and they have destroyed the credibility of the Church through their criminal behaviors

    When did the Church ever have credibility?

    The solution, however, is not to bad-mouth the only institution founded by that obscure Palestinian philosopher we all know and love, Jesus Christ,

    Don’t be silly. Jesus wasn’t a philosopher, except in the broadest sense that anyone is.

    the solution is purge the Church hierarchy of liberals, modernists, usurers, Communists, atheists and homosexuals.

    Would that be a . . . Final Solution you’re suggesting?

  24. Owlmirror says

    “Ezra Pound” faintly sets off my Piltdown Man alert, but I would hope that Pilt would not be such a dumbfuck chucklehead ignorant of Church history and literary history.

    But then, Pilt has surprised me before with how much of a dumbfuck chucklehead he’s capable of being.

  25. PatrickG says

    @ Owlmirror: One of us needs to recalibrate their sarcasm meters. I’m honestly not sure which of us has a misfiring unit, though. False positive for me, or failure to detect for you? :)

  26. ck says

    Owlmirror wrote:

    I note that, for someone using the cognomen you’ve chosen, you’ve mysteriously left off the Jews.

    Well, he did include “usurers”, and “International Bankers” has become the new way of saying crypto-Jews, so it may be an implicit inclusion. Besides, they can’t explicitly include the Jewish, because they’re so fond of the term “Judeo-Christian”.

  27. DLC says

    Gotta agree with PatrickG — I thought “Ezra Pound” was doing sarcasm. Not so sure about that now.

    gotta love putting it in the cemetery care fund. as if the dead give a shit.
    Throw the bastards in prison til they cough up the money.

  28. Azuma Hazuki says

    Ezra Pound *is* Pilt, if my intuition guides me well. He’s the only Catholic troll we have on here, and the writing style screams (well, oozes, or perhaps defecates) Pilty.

    Hey, Pilt! If you think the RCC is anything like what Jesus was used to or had in mind when he walked the planet, you have a rude shock waiting for you! Looks like another moron who confused Constantine with Jesus…

  29. robster says

    What the f*ck is happening in the “land of the free”? Protection for the catholics’ criminal activity from the courts! What next? Telling the truth? Probably not.

  30. Owlmirror says

    I am still not confident that “Ezra Pound” is Pilt, but a quick skim of the archives does show that Pilt, like “Pound”, eschews the serial comma.

    For whatever that’s worth. It’s hardly proof positive.

    Some of what Pilt wrote might have seemed to be a facetious or sarcastic tone, but he backed it up with deadly serious repetition and insistence. And a lot of what is in the archives includes accusing the Church of having been infiltrated by corrupt elements that must be rooted out.

    I’ve also seen similar sentiments from other conservative Catholics. The key buzzword is “modernism”, which has a specific sense in Catholic theology.

    Why would someone with sarcastic intent use the name of a famous raving fascist and antisemitic literary figure?

  31. Owlmirror says

    The only sarcasm I see might be in “we all know and love”.

    But even Pilt (or other Catholic conservative) might have been intending “we conservative Catholics” while posting defiantly and knowingly on an atheist blog; showing his contempt by ignoring and erasing his interlocutors.

  32. PatrickG says

    I guess I just thought the homocommulibatheists infiltrating the Catholic Church was too hilarious to be serious.

    Might have to chalk this one up in the “Isn’t it nice that I can still be that naive?” column.

  33. Azuma Hazuki says

    This is a classic case of Poe’s Law, negative sense (mistaking someone being serious for satire). Pilty is as serious, and as welcome, as an epidemic of ebola when it comes to these things. I don’t think he’s insane; I think he’s a primary sociopath.

  34. PatrickG says

    This is a classic case of Poe’s Law

    This might be the only case of Poe’s Law I’ve ever seen in action. :)

  35. Jeff D says

    Another boring legal point in response to omback (#25): Most U. S. states have enacted a fraudulent transfer statute, which provides that if a person or entity owes a debt and transfers assets away to anyone else either (1) with actual intent to hinder creditors or (2) under circumstances that leave the debtor less able to pay his, her or its debts, then the creditor can reach those assets. Creditors must act within specified time limits, and a debtor’s sale of assets for full and adequate consideration does not trigger the statute. This is different from “piercing the corporate veil,” a doctrine that may allow a corporation’s creditors to ignore the “limited liability” features of the corporate form and to reach the assets of the corporation’s shareholders.

    Bankruptcy trustees have supercharged versions of the power to reach and drag back fraudulently transferred assets (sometimes called ‘avoidance powers,” because a bankruptcy trustee can amnog other things, “avoid” or unwind a payment that a debtor makes to just one creditor within a certain time limit, on the grounds that the payment is unfair to the other creditors). In this chapter 11 bankruptcy case, the Archidocese is the “debtor in possession” of its own assets, serves as the de facto bankruptcy trustee, and has a certain amount of time to propose a reorganization plan and get it approved. The bankruptcy court naturally allowed the committee of the Archdiocese’s largest creditors to do what a bankruptcy trustee woudl have done: to challenge the $57 million transfer to the cemetery trust fund.

    In this case, the cemetery trust fund was a separate legal entity, under non-church civil law, from the Archdiocese, although the same guy (the archbishop) just happens to be the trustee of the trust fund. I’ve not studied the RFRA or its legislative history, but I find it slightly mind-boggling to contemplate that Congress intended that a religious organization could use the Act to insulate assets from creditor claims and from bankruptcy trustees’ legal tools merely by transferring the assets to a separate fund or trust with a religious purpose. Stinks on ice, but makes it that much easier to recognize that the RCC’s leadership, from bishops on up, walks, talks and acts like a vast criminal enterprise.