Archdiocese fails to treat survivors fairly in long, drawn-out legal battle
(Milwaukee, WI) – Today the Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced a $21 million settlement to compensate clergy sexual abuse survivors. The settlement comes after four and a half years of drawn-out, painful legal battles resulting in millions of dollars in legal fees to bankruptcy attorneys. The Archdiocese objected to all 575 sexual abuse claims filed in bankruptcy court and attempted to have hundreds of the claims thrown out of court before the November, 2015, plan of reorganization hearing. As a result, the creditors’ committee, which represents all creditors in the bankruptcy proceedings, was forced to make a decision that would prevent the case from being drawn out longer and incurring additional bankruptcy attorneys’ fees.
“We applaud the courage of the survivors who came forward, and the creditors’ committee, who fought every step of the way,” said attorney Jeff Anderson. “The treatment of the survivors by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has been harsh and hurtful. This process has been heartbreaking for many who have been treated so unfairly by hardball legal tactics. The survivors continued to stand up for what was right, what they believed in, and to make sure the truth was brought to light. Because of them, children are better protected.”
On January 4, 2011, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The Archdiocese claimed its initial purpose for filing was “[t]o provide compensation for the unresolved claims of victims/survivors of Abuse including those Abuse victims/survivors who have not yet come forward.” Prior to filing bankruptcy, the Archdiocese faced less than two dozen lawsuits over its handling of clergy sexual abuse cases and the disclosure of information and depositions of retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland and Richard Sklba.
Over two years after filing for Chapter 11 reorganization, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was forced to turn over thousands of once-secret church documents and depositions of top Archdiocese officials. These documents detailed Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Vatican’s role in sexual abuse cases and demonstrated how church officials and the Vatican repeatedly denied sexual abuse survivors justice by failing to act with urgency on reports of sexual abuse, often waiting years to remove a priest from ministry who had credible allegations of child sexual abuse.
The documents also showed that in July 2007, at Dolan’s request, the Vatican quickly approved the transfer of more than $56 million into a cemetery trust to “protect” the funds from sexual abuse victims. The cemetery trust funds continued to play a key role in the bankruptcy proceedings. Other revelations in this legal struggle showed Cardinal Dolan’s policy of paying predator priests to leave the priesthood.
The Archdiocese continued to fight survivors every step of the way. In November 2013, the Archdiocese attempted to settle with one of its insurers without the survivors’ participation. It also continued to try to hide behind the passage of time to get cases thrown out of court.
On March, 3, 2015, survivors emerged victorious when the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and First Amendment did not preclude survivors from challenging the transfer of the cemetery funds.
For more information and to view the documents and depositions, visit http://www.andersonadvocates.com/Documents/Milwaukee.