WI--Milwaukee Archdiocese "settles" sex abuse bankruptcy: $15 million dollars for hundreds of victims, $30 million for a handful of lawyers
Statement by Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director (Milwaukee; but in Washington DC today CONTACT: 414.429.7259; available in Milwaukee today CONTACT: Mark Salmon, 414.712.2092; Monica Barrett 414.704.6074)
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.
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