(Reuters) - New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a leading candidate to become pope, was questioned on Wednesday in a legal deposition about cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests while he was the head of the archdiocese of Milwaukee, a church lawyer said.
Dolan was deposed in New York for three hours by attorneys representing more than 500 people who claim they were sexually abused by clergy at the Milwaukee archdiocese, which Dolan headed from 2002 to 2009, said Frank LoCoco, an archdiocese attorney.
In 2011, the Milwaukee archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing the financial drain of settling sexual-abuse claims and acknowledging missteps by the church in dealing with pedophile priests.
Milwaukee was the eighth U.S. Roman Catholic diocese to declare bankruptcy in fallout from a sexual-abuse scandal that surfaced in 2002 and has prompted the Church to pay out more than $2 billion in settlements.
LoCoco said Dolan was asked about his efforts to respond to the claims of sexual abuse in the Milwaukee archdiocese.
"More specifically, the questioning was intended to deal with his decision early in his tenure to publicize the list of known abusers in the church for the public," LoCoco said.
Dolan is one of two American cardinals scheduled to be deposed this week, according to The New York Times, which first reported their involvement. The second, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, will be questioned on Saturday, the Times said.
Both are expected to travel to Rome soon to attend the Vatican conclave that will elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who surprised the world last week by announcing he would resign at the end of February.
Dolan, 62, is among the 10 or so front-runners from around the world to succeed Benedict. The voice of U.S. Catholicism after being named archbishop of New York in 2009, Dolan's humor and dynamism have impressed the Vatican.
Mahony has faced criticism after the Los Angeles archdiocese released more than 12,000 pages of files earlier this month showing he and a top adviser sent priests accused of abuse out of California to shield them from law-enforcement scrutiny during the 1980s.
The archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the United States with 4 million Catholics, reached a $660 million settlement in 2007 with more than 500 victims of sexual molestation. It was the biggest U.S. settlement of its kind.
A spokesman for the archdiocese of New York did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
(Writing and reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Steve Gorman and Philip Barbara)