MILWAUKEE, August 25, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - The archdiocese of Milwaukee has formally settled its bankruptcy reorganization plan, which will deal out $21 million to more than 300 victims of clerical sex abuse.
The finalizing of the settlement follows three years of planning after the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011. Judges aren't anticipated to review the plan until November, but Church officials are already optimistic and "hopeful [it] is approved by the judge," according to archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski. "We're confident she will appreciate the work that's been done getting to this point."
Advocates of the victims have already criticized parts of the settlement, with Peter Isely, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Midwest chapter, stating that key issues will need to be addressed, including petitioning for more claims to be included in the settlement.
According to Isely, "[T]ere's a window of time between now and November where [they] can make things happen."
However, Isely also admits that many of the abused are willing to accept the deal, if only to move on and put the case behind them.
The abuses in question began in the 1970s with one Fr. Lawrence Murphy allegedly molesting up to 200 deaf boys while a teacher at the St. John School for the Deaf. After being made aware of the abuse in 1974, then Milwaukee archbishop William Cousins placed Murphy on a leave of absence and unceremoniously moved him to the Diocese of Superior, without informing the bishop of Superior of the reason.
In 1977 Rembert Weakland succeeded Abp. Cousins and later admitted he was made aware of the Fr. Murphy situation that same year. Archbishop Weakland prohibited Fr. Murphy from celebrating Mass in Milwaukee, but similarly did not notify the Superior diocese nor the authorities of the situation.
Following his retirement in 1993, Fr. Murphy admitted to the molestations, and in 1996 Abp. Weakland notified the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Murphy died before the Vatican could proceed with a canonical trial, which could only prosecute on the grounds that he had molested some of his victims during the sacrament of Confession.
The scandals blew up in the public sphere in 2003 following public testimony from victims before the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committee. The report revealed that allegations of sexual assault of minors had been levied against 58 ordained men from within the archdiocese of Milwaukee. Under then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the archdiocese spent $26.5 million in attorney fees and settlements, narrowly avoiding bankruptcy.
In 2009, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that a deposition exposed Abp. Weakland for having shredded reports concerning sexual abuse by priests. The former archbishop, who had retired in 2002 amidst revelations that he had used $450,000 in diocesan funds after being blackmailed by a former gay lover, also admitted to permitting priests guilty of child molestation to continue in their functions as priests.
In January 2011, under the leadership of Abp. Jerome Listecki, the diocese filed for bankruptcy in the face of more than 23 lawsuits.
Milwaukee is one of a dozen Catholic dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy within the past decade on account of sexual abuse claims.
Under the current settlement terms, the 330 abused will share the $21 million; all of the archdiocese's schools, parishes and institutions will be protected from further lawsuits.