– The Associated Press

MILWAUKEE – As the national clergy sex abuse scandal mounted following revelations in Boston in 2002, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan faced increasing pressure as the archbishop in Milwaukee to cut costs by defrocking problem priests and pushback from his staff when he hesitated, according to newly released records.

Clergy sex abuse victims have harshly criticized Dolan for payments made to at least seven abusive priests who were forced out of the church; they view the money as bonuses given to criminals. The archdiocese has said it long provided money to priests leaving the priesthood as a means of helping them transition into new lives; most were not accused of wrongdoing.

While victims have faulted Dolan for the payments, documents released July 1 show that others in the archdiocese also were pushing to get rid of the priests as a way to ensure that money was focused on caring for victims and church operations. Dolan and others likely saw the payments as a cost-effective way to speed up the priests’ departure.

The documents were made public as part of a deal reached in federal bankruptcy court between the archdiocese and victims suing it for fraud.

Archdiocese leaders long struggled with how to deal with abusive priests. After more victims began coming forward in 2002, however, the archdiocese pulled all the priests with verified allegations of sexual abuse of a minor from active ministry. The church, however, was still financially responsible for the men as long as they were priests.

Under Dolan, who took over in mid-2002, the archdiocese offered deals in 2003 to a half-dozen priests accused of sexual abuse to get them to voluntarily leave the priesthood. The priests received $10,000 when they applied to leave, and $10,000 when the pope officially dismissed them.

A letter to another priest shows Dolan also sweetened the deal by agreeing to continue paying a monthly stipend while the priests’ applications to leave were pending.

A key factor was that the departure process, called laicization, involves a lengthy legal process within the church that moves much faster if a priest goes voluntarily.

A priest who volunteered to leave might be gone in two years; one who resisted could drag the process out for years. The files include multiple instances of Vatican officials urging church leaders in Milwaukee to get priests to go voluntarily.