Lawyer For Sexual-Abuse Victims Calls Move A Cover-Up Attempt

MILWAUKEE (CBS) — The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee has directed its attorneys to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, saying that pending sexual-abuse lawsuits have left it with financial claims that exceed its means.

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Archbishop Jerome Listecki said Tuesday the archdiocese was undergoing reorganization for two reasons: to be able to compensate victims and survivors while also allowing the church to continue its mission.

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“In my installation homily on January 4, 2010, I spoke of the devastation of sin and its effect on us personally and as a community,” Archbishop Listecki said in a statement. “We see the result of that sin today. This action is occurring because priest-perpetrators sexually abused minors, going against everything the church and the priesthood represents.”

The Milwaukee Archdiocese had been in mediation with victims of sex abuse, but those negotiations stalled over the victims’ demand that the church release documents along with money.

As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports, Listecki on Tuesday listed the steps the Milwaukee Catholic Church has taken to avoid bankruptcy: property that have been sold, savings and investments that have been liquidated, services and ministries that have stopped, and 40% staff cuts that have been made.

Still, he said those measures were not enough, with $29 million in settlements and counting.

“We have succeeded in reaching mediated settlements with more than 200 individuals,” Listecki said. “But in the end, our available resources fell short.”

A lawyer for the abuse victims, Jeff Anderson, said the bankruptcy filing is designed to continue what he calls a “cover-up,” delaying the release of new and damaging information.

“There’s no doubt in our mind that there’s been a long-standing cover-up and concealment in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that spans decades,” he said. “Until we get the names of those that are complicit in these crimes, from the top on down, children are at risk. And we’re very sad and very alarmed that they’ve now succeeded in delaying the truth being known.”

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The group SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – said the decision to file for bankruptcy, is not about money, but designed to conceal church secrets.
“We know this will stop the civil cases that are pending and those cases would have forced church officials to have to go under oath in depositions and possibly in court and have to testify as to how much they knew and how little they did to protect the children,” SNAP spokeswoman Barbara Blaine said.

Listecki denied that charge, insisting abusive priests have been exposed and files have been opened.

Nonetheless, Listecki apologized for the bankruptcy and the abuse.

“Many of you may feel disheartened and frustrated by this development,” he said. “I have experienced the same emotions. We are here because of one reason: priests sexually abused minors. For that, I feel deeply ashamed.”

Listecki, born and raised in Chicago, became the archbishop of Milwaukee one year ago Tuesday. He said the bankruptcy will not include individual parishes and schools; they are separate corporations.

The cases against the Milwaukee Archdiocese include that of a now-dead priest who admitted he probably abused 200 deaf boys.

Last year, the Milwaukee Archdiocese was at the center of a lawsuit aimed at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church, stemming from that priest’s actions.

The Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who died in 1998, was accused of sexually abusing some 200 boys at the school from 1950 to 1974. His case drew renewed scrutiny after the recent release of documents suggesting that a Vatican office led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – failed to aggressively discipline Murphy.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George said, “I hope and pray that this action will ensure fairness to all the victims of sexual abuse over many years and that the ministries of the Archdiocese, built upon the generosity of generations of Milwaukee Catholics, will be able to continue.”

Seven other U.S. Catholic dioceses have sought bankruptcy protection from sex abuse claims since the clergy abuse scandal erupted in 2002 in Boston. Those dioceses are in Davenport, Iowa; Fairbanks, Alaska; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Spokane, Wash.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Wilmington, Del.

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