In victory for Milwaukee Archdiocese, judge shields cemetery funds from creditors

(Journal Sentinel) In a major victory for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, a federal judge ruled that funds set aside for cemetery operations cannot be tapped to pay sex abuse settlements in the archdiocese’s bankruptcy case.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa ruled that taking even a portion of the funds would violate the archdiocese’s free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.

Randa issued the decision Monday in a lawsuit filed by the archdiocese to keep its cemetery trust from being tapped to pay sex abuse settlements in the bankruptcy. The ruling was made public Tuesday.

Randa’s decision overturns a January ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley and remands the case back to her.

The archdiocese has about $53 million in funds in a cemetery trust created in 2007, from monies it said it held in trust on its books for decades. Victims have accused the archdiocese of moving the money into a trust to keep it from sex abuse victims.

Randa’s decision addresses one of two issues before him that could have a significant effect on the trajectory of the bankruptcy case. He is also expected to rule soon on whether the archdiocese’s insurers are liable for damages in several of the sex abuse claims filed as part of the bankruptcy.