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Archdiocese of Milwaukee announces $21 million settlement in clergy sex abuse case

Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced a $21 million settlement to compensate clergy sexual abuse survivors. 

The settlement comes after four and a half years of legal battles. 

The proposed settlement agreement will be outlined in an Amended Plan of Reorganization to be filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on August 24, and Judge Susan V. Kelley is expected to review the Plan at a hearing on November 9.

Archbishop Listecki said if the plan is approved, it officially ends the bankruptcy case and allows the archdiocese to return its full attention to the spiritual, charitable and educational mission of the Church.

“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.” 

“This settlement represents for us in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee a new Pentecost, a day of rebirth that renews our focus on Word, Worship and Service,” Listecki said.  “We do so remembering those who have been harmed; keeping them in our prayers; supporting them through therapy and healing; promising never to forget the evil that has been done; and working diligently to ensure this never happens again.”

“This chapter will live on in our memories forever, but now we can turn the page from that chapter and focus on the future,” Archbishop Listecki said.  “We turn that page by rededicating ourselves to the spiritual, educational and charitable mission of the Church -- igniting our enthusiasm in our parishes and schools; renewing our commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church; and energizing ourselves and others in our prayer and ministry.

The agreement was endorsed by both the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Finance Council and the College of Consultors, according to Archbishop Listecki.

The settlement came after three days of mediation and negotiations between the archdiocese, the Creditors’ Committee, and attorneys for abuse survivors July 15-17, in Milwaukee.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests released the below statement.

The painfully and needlessly long, expensive and hurtful Milwaukee Catholic archdiocesan bankruptcy scandal has apparently been resolved by church officials basically cramming a self-serving plan down the throats of struggling abuse victims.

In doing so, these Catholic officials have successfully used fraud to conceal fraud. By shrewdly lying about and selfishly preserving their wealth, Catholic officials are now able to continue hiding the names of hundreds of clerics who have committed and concealed heinous crimes against kids. By exploiting the Chapter 11 process, Catholic officials are now able to keep “under wraps” the identities of proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesters AND the identities of perhaps hundreds of Catholic employees who suspected or knew of these dreadful crimes.

Nearly 600 victims of clergy sex crimes and cover ups, including many of the deaf youngsters from a notorious Catholic school, have been hurt again. In the legal realm, it’s the largest mass betrayal of child sex abuse victims we’ve ever seen by one diocese. And it’s the most cunning exploitation of the advantages of bankruptcy rules by Catholic officials we’ve ever seen.  

Victims should thank, not vilify, the creditors committee. We have no “inside information” but strongly suspect the small group of dedicated survivors on this panel did all they could to lessen the horrors of this awful process and these awful archdiocesan officials. We strongly suspect that the panel worked hard to be inclusive and do what it could to make sure as many victims as possible got some small measure of justice.

We hope Catholics, in Milwaukee and beyond, ask some tough questions now. Notably: How can Archbishop Jerome Listecki and his top staff explain and justify their stunning generosity with their lawyers, their callous treatment of suffering victims and their miserly hoarding of some $300 million in church wealth. Another question: How can they explain and justify claiming, in legal filings, that virtually every one of the 575 victims deserve no help whatsoever?

We are deeply sad for the almost 600 brave victims who trusted a priest, an archdiocese and a legal system but feel let down and deceived yet again. Though the legal outcome is dismal, each of these wounded individuals should take some comfort in the fact that by stepping forward, they’re part of a huge movement of caring people who are gradually letting the world see the corruption that’s so rampant in the Catholic hierarchy. Kids are safer today because of these responsible, tough steps taken by these Milwaukee survivors.

Finally, despite this betrayal, we hope every single person who sees, suspects or suffers clergy sex crimes and cover ups in Milwaukee will dig deep and find the courage to protect kids and deter cover ups by exposing every Catholic employee – past and present – who commits or conceals sexual assaults on children or adults.

SNAP Milwaukee released this statement:

In a perverse and cynical parody of the famous biblical story of King Solomon, it has been announced today that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has reached a monetary “settlement” with the Creditors Committee of the nearly five year old church sex abuse bankruptcy. It is exponentially the lowest bankruptcy compensation for victims in the United States.

(To see what the settlement should have looked like and the issues it should have addressed go to yesterday’s statement on the revised plan here). 

One number dramatically demonstrates just how unjust this “settlement” is:  at the end of the day, lawyers will be end up getting twice as much money than victims, approximately $30 million dollars for a handful of lawyers and $15 million dollars for hundreds of victims.   

The entire settlement amount to victims is around $21 million dollars (after subtracting one third for their lawyers or $7 million dollars, that leaves $15 million dollars).  Church and bankruptcy lawyers will be paid at least $23 million dollars. (That number includes at least $13 million that has already been paid to lawyer, $7.5 million more in the settlement, an estimated $2 million in litigation and lawyers’ fees for Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s Milwaukee “cemetery trust”.)

The average victim settlement for all the other US church bankruptcies when you subtract one third for attorney fees is $300,000.  When you subtract the Milwaukee victims’ attorney fees, their average settlement amount (per “allowed” victim) is $44,000. 

So why did the victims on the Creditors Committee agree to such a terrible settlement? 

In the famous bible story, King Solomon is asked to judge between two woman who live in the same household, both claiming to be the mother of an infant boy. After much deliberation and anguish, he asks for a sword.  There is only one fair solution, he says: the live son must be split in two, each woman receiving half of the child. Upon hearing this terrible verdict, the boy's true mother cries out, \"Oh Lord, give the baby to her, just don't kill him!\" The king, of course, declares this mother the true mother.  Only a loving and true mother would rather surrender her baby to another than have him harmed.

The Creditors Committee, like Solomon, made the only ethical choice they could make: to not sacrifice those who would have been harmed if the archdiocese went back into court.  These rape victims were forced, literally, into settling with the church because if they did not, as laughably low as the compensation amount is, hundreds of victims would have received no compensation whatsoever.  Settle now before hundreds of victims get tossed by the archdiocese (and, as the church lawyer said in court last month, they fully intend to “spend down all the money”), or take the settlement. So, some victims choice to take less money for themselves so that other victims might get a little bit of help.

575 victims of rape, sexual assault or abuse by dozen of clergy over several decades filed cases into court because their archbishop and pastor, Jerome Listecki, publically urged them to for “healing and resolution”.  They did so, knowing that by allowing the archdiocese to file for federal bankruptcy, the court was effectively removing their rights to file cases in state court, where depositions, documents and jury trials would have led to a very different outcome than today. 

Indeed, why the archdiocese was ever allowed to maneuver and manipulate its sex abuse secrets into federal bankruptcy in the first place remains a mystery.  Not only was the archdiocese flush upon filing, since entering the bankruptcy the archdiocese has maintained, right up until filings and arguments this last month, that not a single one of the 575 victim cases are valid.  Not one.

The entire purpose for bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley to allow the archdiocese to use the federal bankruptcy protection was so that they would right a terrible wrong.  It was not to add more wrongs to the ones they had already committed.

One can only say to the brave 575 victims who came forward from their shame and silence to seek justice in Kelley’s court, especially the ones who will receive no compensation at all:  better to lose today for the right reasons than, as Archbishop Listecki has done today, win for a wrong ones. Better, as Socrates put it, to be the victim of injustice than the cause of one. 

The medium as the saying goes is the message.  And in our society money is the medium. Through it we communicate our values, what we believe, where are heart, as the biblical saying goes, can be truly found. 

So what is the message from Archbishop Listecki to victims and Catholics with today’s forced settlement?  Isn’t it that an institution if it has enough money, connections and legal protections can engage in decades of widespread and large scale abuse and cover up related to sexual violence against children, and simply does not have to responsible for the lives it has destroyed or be made accountable to the community? 

That is why a 576th victim has joined the 575 victims from Milwaukee today. Victim 576 goes by several names:  Justice. Truth.  Decency.  Some even call him Jesus.  

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