WI--For victims, Milwaukee Archdiocesan bankruptcy going from bad to worse
Statement by Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director
Four years ago Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki petitioned the federal bankruptcy court for chapter 11, promising that court ordering sexual abuse cases into bankruptcy was necessary to bring “healing” and “resolution” to victims of pedophile clergy. That took cases out of state court and put them into bankruptcy court, where they decide if creditors should get paid their business debts or private companies reorganize themselves.
$22.5 million dollars in lawyers’ fees later, not only hasn’t a single one of the 575 victims that filed cases in Milwaukee received a penny of restitution, ten more representative cases were tossed out today in a confusing set of narrow rulings by Judge Susan V. Kelley. One can only wonder: why did it take four years and millions of dollars to figure out only now that these cases don’t have legal merit?
If it wasn’t before, it is now painfully clear that the federal court should never have accepted Listecki’s petition for bankruptcy. The archdiocese never intended to bring healing and restitution to victims. What it has done, besides increasing exponentially the pain and suffering of survivors and their families, is bar victims from seeking justice in state courts and herd them into federal bankruptcy. Now, instead of being a victim of child rape or a plaintiff in a terrible negligence act, you’re a consumer or a creditor trying to get you bill paid.
Which leads to the obvious point: bankruptcy court is no place for criminal child rape and institutional conspiracy cases. Yes, other church bankruptcies around the US were resolved quickly, leading to some actual restitution for victims, on average, $350,000 per survivor. But the bishops in the other bankruptcies, in retrospect, seemed to have decided that they would work in some significant way with victims and their attorneys to reach resolution. In Milwaukee, however, the lone wolf archbishop decided he was going to send his lawyers to destroy victim cases like heat seeking missiles. So far, they have done splendidly for themselves. The current offer on the table for restitution per victim, by the way, is under $7,000.
That is why Milwaukee is now the nation’s object lesson on exactly how not to resolve church sexual abuse cases, as was recently mentioned, very pointedly and publically, from the bench of at least two federal judges in other church bankruptcy filings, Gallup and Minneapolis. How, the judges mused, could lawyers be paid twice as much in Milwaukee as the total being offered to all victims?
Apparently the message to the community from the archbishop from this bankruptcy, the innocent and the criminal alike, is that you can get away with anything if only you have enough money, power and time.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 18,000 members worldwide. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Visit us at SNAPnetwork.org and SNAPwisconsin.com