01/06/11-by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is seeking bankruptcy protection over pending lawsuits regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests whose crimes were later covered up by the Church. It is feared that this filing may be little more than a delaying tactic, according to the lawyer who filed many of the suits, and that this is a way to avoid opening its records for public scrutiny. This tactic has been used in other locations to do just that. Archbishop Jerome Listecki, however, feels that the bankruptcy protection will allow the church to continue its work while making sure that other victims receive their compensation. He also expressed deep shame over the abuse.
Listecki has said:
“In my installation homily on Jan. 4, 2010, I spoke of the devastation of sin and its effect on us personally and as a community. 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.”
It has been pointed out that many within the hierarchy, and especially Pope Benedict, have spent almost no time with the victims of abuse, and that they continue to cover up the crimes of priests who molest children often with abrupt movement of priests from one assignment to another. In Ireland, the Vatican pushed to have the names of child molesting priests expunged from various reports.
Milwaukee becomes the eighth US dioceses to seek bankruptcy protection since the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted onto the national and international scene in 2002. So far, Davenport, Iowa; Fairbanks, Alaska; Portland, Oregon; San Diego; Spokane, Washington; Tucson, Arizona; and Wilmington, Delaware, have all filed bankruptcy.
The announcement was not met very favorably by attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul. Anderson has filed twenty-three of the lawsuits and was set to depose Milwaukee Bishop Richard Sklba on Thursday. He feels that this was intended to delay that deposition. He said that this was common that other dioceses had filed bankruptcy just before the trials so as to avoid having to release information. Anderson and some of his clients have sought the release of the names of priests accused of sexual abuse and the church officials who have protected them. So far, the church has refused to do so. Mediation between the church and the victims failed last month, and that is, according to archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski, is why this is going to bankruptcy court.
The archdiocese has assets of about $98.4 million but more than $90 million of that is designated for specific use by donors or otherwise restricted, according to its website. Its 210 parishes with 640,000 members are incorporated individually, so the bankruptcy won’t affect their finances, Topczewski said.
The reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code will allow the archdiocese to continue to conduct its normal activities, but a bankruptcy court will have to approve all non-routine decisions and expenses.
Topczewski also said:
“People should know this doesn’t mean we’re going out of business. This is a way to reorganize, to make sure we can continue to operate on stable financial grounds and meet our obligations to those who were harmed.”
The lawsuits include allegations against six priests, including against one who is alleged to have abused some 200 boys at a school for deaf students from 1950 to 1974.
Listecki has stated that the archdiocese has already done all it can to raise more cash:
“Since 2002, we have sold property, liquidated savings and investments, eliminated ministries and services, cut archdiocesan staff by nearly 40 percent, and put all available real estate on the market in order to free up resources.”