Letter to Pope Francis -- It is not a miracle that 575 of us in Milwaukee came forward

September 23, 2015

Pope Francis

Apostolic Palace

00120 Vatican City

Dear Pope Francis,

I am one of 575 victims of childhood rape, sexual assault or abuse by clergy who have worked in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who have filed cases seeking restitution from the church in US Federal Bankruptcy Court. I am writing to you on our behalf and on behalf of our families.

Every rape or sexual assault of a child is a double act of theft: first it steals the body and then it steals the voice.

Seeking justice as adults through our courts for the crimes that were committed against us as children is an effort by us to restore both body and voice. That is why we were cheered when, early in your pontificate, you directly and explicitly affirmed the rightness and importance for victims to seek justice and restitution through the civil justice system. 

We filed our cases for restitution over four and a half years ago in US Bankruptcy Court because the new Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki publicly assured us that by doing so he would use the bankruptcy court to bring just “compensation, healing and resolution” to victims.

The chief architect of the bankruptcy, however, was Listecki’s predecessor, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who repeatedly and directly spoke of his remorse for the crimes committed by Milwaukee clergy against children.

Imagine our sense of betrayal, then, when we learned that Archbishop Dolan before leaving for his new post as Archbishop of New York had acted directly to contravene the spirit of the very principle of civil justice for victims that your words celebrate and affirm.

In a letter obtained in federal court, Dolan wrote to Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Prefect of Congregation of the Clergy, for permission to transfer nearly $60 million dollars of assets into a new “Cemetery Perpetual Care Trust.” The archdiocese, of course, already had money set aside for the care of cemeteries. Why was Dolan seeking permission to make a new trust? Because the Wisconsin Supreme Court had just issued a unanimous ruling against the Milwaukee Archdiocese stating that there was sufficient evidence of its fraudulent concealment and transfer of clergy child sex offenders that the archdiocese could be brought to civil court by victims seeking restitution. Dolan, in the letter, clearly stated his intent in creating a new and unneeded trust.“By transferring these assets to the Trust, they [the monies]will be protected by any legal claim and liability.”

Additionally, the newly created cemetery trust was intended for only eight cemeteries, most of which also have a mausoleum in or near or near the City of Milwaukee. All the many remaining Catholic cemeteries in the archdiocese do not benefit from this trust. $60 million dollars is hardly required to serve the needs of only eight cemeteries.

Dolan’s transfer of tens of millions of dollars to prevent victims from just compensation is an act of civil and, in all likelihood, criminal fraud under US law.

Court documents also show that Dolan, after public denials to the contrary, devised and executed a secret policy of paying clerics who had abused children (a $20,000 dollar “signing bonus” added to their pension and other benefits) to leave the priesthood without the archdiocese notifying the unsuspecting communities in which they settled.

The new church you are urging us to build together requires you to hold Cardinal Dolan accountable for the planning, direction and, to a very significant degree, the current outcome of the bankruptcy, which has resulted in:

--The lowest settlements of any church bankruptcy in the United States by a factor of ten, with individual amounts to victims that do not even begin to address the severe and lasting harm done to them or provide anywhere near the resources required to begin a true recovery, with some clergy rape victims receiving as little as $2,000 dollars.

--Only 26 percent of the total bankruptcy settlement money will be allocated to help victims. 74 percent of the costs will pay lawyers’ fees, including $19.5 million to church and bankruptcy lawyers, $4 million in legal expenses to defend Dolan’s trust, and $7 million to victim attorneys; in other words, over twice as much money will be pocketed by church and other lawyers then will be given to help survivors.

--Most alarmingly, direct victim reports filed into court detail that at least 100 newly alleged clergy child sex offenders from the archdiocese have not been properly investigated or prosecuted, leaving countless children at risk in our church and community.

You have said that “the courage” victims show “by speaking up, by telling the truth” has been “in the service of love” to “shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church.”

The church believes that God so ordered the universe that he placed at the center of creation the human heart and at the center of the human heart, the faculty of free consent. Love does not exist or enter the embodied soul without free consent. That is why the sexual violence by a priest against a child is a demonic parody of both creation and love, of the very miracle of creation through love.

It is an endless mystery that the shame the priest sex offender should logically and naturally feel within his own soul while violating the body of the child is rarely if ever felt by him. Instead, the shame of this crime, this awful and crushing weight, is poured into the body of the victim – our bodies. This is why it is we, not the offender, who feels the weight of this criminal shame, and why it is so difficult for most of us to come forward and bring our violation to speech.

Is it not a miracle that 575 of us in Milwaukee come forward, three generations of survivors, and together as brothers and sisters speak the unspeakable? Every time a survivor speaks, as you so rightly acknowledged, no matter how difficult to hear or unwanted the effect, it is an act of love for the church.

Victims in Milwaukee can still receive justice with your intervention and help. The money fraudulently transferred by Dolan which should have been used to compensate victims can still be put to that very purpose. Your time here in New York City will give you an opportunity to continue your pledge to hold Cardinal Dolan and other bishops accountable for the ongoing crisis of clerical sexual abuse and honor 575 acts of love and truth.


Peter J. Isely

SNAP Midwest Director

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org)

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