Victims Seek Public Release of Documents in Archdiocese Bankruptcy

JS Online: Lawyers for sex-abuse victims in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy are asking the judge to make public all records involving credibly accused priests, depositions and other sealed documents, saying the move is needed to protect children.

They accuse the archdiocese of using the bankruptcy’s broad protective order, which is intended to shield victims, to deny police detectives in an ongoing investigation access to information about a now defrocked priest.

“This is exactly why the public is served by relief of the protective order,” said victims attorney Jeff Anderson, whose firm asked Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley on Friday to modify the order to allow the limited release of information, while still protecting the identities of victims.

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said it’s the archdiocese’s policy to cooperate with civil authorities. He attributed its failure to provide information about former priest Jerome Wagner to the Fond du Lac Police Department last fall as a breakdown in internal communication involving its newly hired victims advocate.

“It’s in our best interest,” said Topczewski. “The bottom line is if the Fond du Lac Police Department had been directed to our attorneys, they would have gotten the documents they wanted,” he said.

Topczewski could not explain why they were not provided in the two months since the initial request. “That’s a good question,” he said.

Fond du Lac police are investigating allegations that Wagner molested a minor between 1997 and 2001, before he was restricted from ministry in 2002. He was later defrocked and appears on the archdiocese’s list of credibly accused diocesan priests.

Anderson, who has advocated for the release of church documents in lawsuits and bankruptcies around the country, says claims in the Milwaukee bankruptcy identify more than 100 accused offenders, 75 of them priests, who have not been publicly named by the archdiocese. Their identities remain under seal as part of the protective order, creating what victims have alleged is a public safety crisis — an accusation the judge has roundly rejected.

Topczewski said the majority of those priests belong to religious orders, over which the archdiocese has no authority. Victims argue that the archdiocese bears resp