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Payoffs? Bonuses? Nonsense! Milwaukee archdiocese offered severance payments.

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 01, 2012

Let’s say you run a business. You discover that several of your employees have engaged in gross misconduct. Naturally you want to fire them.

But it’s complicated. You have contractual obligations to these workers. If you stop paying them immediately, they could sue. You’d probably win in court, but the costs of litigation would be considerable.

So what do you do? The same thing thousands of other unhappy employers do: You offer the misbehaving workers a cash payment, in exchange for their agreement to leave immediately and relinquish their contractual rights.

Now suppose someone comes along and says that you’ve given these employees—these ex-employees, I should say—a “bonus” for their misbehavior. How would you respond?

You’d say that the critic was crazy, I imagine. You weren’t rewarding the workers for misbehaving; you were dismissing them for misbehavior. The payment was made so that you could be rid of them quickly.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee had obligations to priests who were found guilty of sexual abuse. Those priests might have been removed from ministry, but under canon law the archdiocese was still required to provide for their living expenses. The archdiocese could have—and did—undertake the canonical process of removing these men from the clergy, and thus ending the legal obligations. But if the priests resisted, that process could drag on, and meanwhile whose expenses would have to be paid.

So the archdiocese paid some priests to accept laicization and surrender their future benefits. This wasn’t a “payoff,” much less a “bonus.” It was the canonical equivalent of a severance payment.

No story here, folks. Unless you're really desperate for another stick to use to beat the Catholic hiearchy, let this one go.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jun. 03, 2012 9:23 PM ET USA

    "The Archdiocese of Milwaukee offered...priests cash payouts to persuade them to leave the priesthood...[P]ayments of up to $20,000 were...offered...to encourage the priests to surrender the salary and benefits that the archdiocese would otherwise have been obligated to pay them...[T]he payments were made to accelerate the process of removing abusive priests from the clergy." Perhaps the original CWN article should have merely said what you did above: the Archdiocese offered severance packages.

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