, ,

Judge To Decide If Abuse Victims Will Stay Part Of Milwaukee Archdiocese Bankruptcy Case

Church Has Said It's Offered Help, Resources To Victims

Joseph (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Clergy abuse victims and the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese will go back before a federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday in a hearing that will determine whether many people who say they were physically abused while children will remain in the church bankruptcy case.

It’s the latest crossroads in the bankruptcy battle that began in January of 2011, when Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki held a news conference announcing that the 10-county archdiocese was filing for bankruptcy. Listecki said bankruptcy protection would be the best way to allow the church to continue to provide services to parishioners, while also dealing with the many unresolved claims brought by clergy abuse victims in molestations dating back as far as the 1960s.

During the 50 months since that news conference, the debate in the bankruptcy courtroom has been bitter. Those involved say it’s the longest-running catholic church bankruptcy in the U.S.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

A Sense Of Renewed Trauma

At the same time was Listecki calmly presiding over an Ash Wednesday mass at Milwaukee Pius Xi High School last February, Mark Salmon was trying to go about his usual activities in his home about a mile away. He watched a television sportscast the same way any other lifelong sports fan might.

But lately, the 61 year-old said he’s again been thinking about being one of the 575 clergy abuse victims with claims in the Milwaukee bankruptcy case. A church employee sexually assaulted Salmon when he was a youth.

Salmon said that for a while, he had to tune out of the four-year bankruptcy dispute because he said the church is playing hardball.

“I’m not the first to say this, but you know, being molested, raped and sodomized — that was the easy part. But this last four years, dealing with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has been traumatic in itself,” he said.

The going may get even tougher for some of the victims at Wednesday’s hearing, as the archdiocese pushes to have several categories of claimants removed from the bankruptcy case.

Peter Isely, the Midwest director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, said that what the church is attempting is wrong.

“This isn’t about whether they were sexually assaulted or raped by a priest, or whether it was covered up,” said Isely. “This is about throwing their cases out because for various legal reasons or technicalities, the archdiocese is saying under bankruptcy law, we shouldn’t have to provide any kind of restitution or compensation.”

‘Brothers In The Law’

The archdiocese has made a settlement offer to about 125 clergy abuse victims, but Isley said the sum being offered is way too small. He also said the amount is far less than the roughly $20 million the archdiocese has racked up in legal bills from its lawyers.

During a recent interview at Marquette University, Archbishop Listecki, who’s also an attorney, defended the expenses.

“The lawyers? Those are my brothers in the law so, you know, they have to do their job representing the issues, hopefully with integrity and the best they can. The complexity of this bankruptcy is what generates the rising costs,” said Listecki.

Listecki said the archdiocese has offered therapy for victims and taken other steps to heal their wounds.

Wednesday’s hearing isn’t the only important step ahead in the bankruptcy case. A federal appeals court in Chicago is scheduled to rule this year on whether a $57 million Catholic cemetery trust fund can be used to help pay the victims’ claims.