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Archbishop Lori, upcoming speaker at ND Forum, has history of blocking transparency in the Church sex abuse crisis

| Friday, September 13, 2019

Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori, the subject of controversy for his history resisting Church transparency efforts, is among seven individuals invited to speak over the course of the 2019 Notre Dame Forum, the University announced in a press release Wednesday.

Lori will be speaking on the forum’s keynote panel, “The Church Crisis: Where Are We Now?,” at 7 p.m. on Sept. 25 in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Leighton Concert Hall. He will be joined by Kathleen McChesney, former executive assistant director at the FBI; Juan Carlos Cruz, advocate for survivors of clergy abuse; and Peter Steinfels, former editor at Commonweal and former columnist for the New York Times.

According to a Sept. 2 profile by the Washington Post, Lori has led efforts to address clergy abuse as early as the 1980s, when he was an aide to then-archbishop of Washington, D.C. James Hickey.

As bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, from 2001 to 2012 Lori helped lead his diocese in the charge against clergy sex abuse. According to the profile, Lori pushed for a number of reforms seen as progressive for their time, “including removing suspected sex offenders from ministry, offering abuse awareness training, doing criminal background checks on diocesan employees, and — for the first time — reporting allegations of clergy sexual abuse to state investigators.”

However, the archbishop has made repeated efforts to protect the identities of abusive clergy as well as many powerful Church leaders with ties to them.

In 2002, Lori helped write the Church’s landmark Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (Dallas Charter), which outlined a “zero-tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse.

As a member of the document’s drafting committee, Lori helped narrow the scope of the charter to omit bishops. The first draft of the document held all clerics accountable for sex abuse; the final version, however, applies to only priests and deacons. When asked why, Lori reportedly said the drafting committee “decided [they] would limit it to priests and deacons, as the disciplining of bishops is beyond the purview of this document.”

Over the next several years, the then-bishop fought to keep documents containing the names of abusing clergy in Bridgeport secret despite a state order calling for their publication. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the documents’ release in 2009.

In 2018, Lori was asked by the Vatican to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by former bishop of Wheeling-Charleston Michael Bransfield, who is Lori’s acquaintance of nearly 20 years.

According to records of the investigation obtained by the Washington Post, Bransfield gave $350,000 in cash gifts to other clergy “including young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican.”

At Lori’s request, the names of 11 high-ranking clergy who had received some of the money were cut from a report of the investigation to the Vatican — including his own.

The Post reported Lori received $10,500 from Bransfield. He has since returned $7,500.

“In light of what I have come to learn of bishop Bransfield’s handling of diocesan finances, I have returned the full amount to the diocese and have asked that it be donated to Catholic Charities,” Lori wrote in a letter to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

According to a June 6 article from WBAL-TV, an unnamed spokesman for the archdiocese said the remaining $3,000 was payment Lori received for celebrating two Masses in West Virginia.

The spokesman also said the 11 names were omitted from the report because “including them could inadvertently and/or unfairly suggest that in receiving gifts for anniversaries or holidays there were expectations for reciprocity,” despite that “no evidence was found to suggest this.”

The University press release did not include any information about the $10,500 Lori received from Bransfield, his efforts to conceal the identities of abusive clergy in Bridgeport or his work on the Dallas Charter, only stating he investigated “allegations of sexual harassment and financial impropriety by the former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.”

When asked for comment, vice president for public affairs and communications Paul Browne said in an email Lori was selected because “like each of the panelists, Archbishop Lori has an informed, unique contribution to make to this important discussion, including his role in crafting the Dallas Charter.”

Browne pointed to an opinion piece about the forum by Crux editor John Allen, who will be moderating the panel.

“The best characterization of the panel I’ve read is from [Allen],” Browne said in the email.

Browne did not specify who was involved with selecting the speakers, nor respond to inquiry into whether Notre Dame was aware of or if there was internal discussion regarding Lori’s controversial history.

Lori was not available for comment at the time of publication.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

Contact Mary