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World & Nation

Archdiocese of Milwaukee reaches $21-million settlement with sexual abuse victims

Milwaukee archbishop

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki in 2011.

(Morry Gash / Associated Press )

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee has reached a $21-million sexual abuse settlement that could end an acrimonious four-year battle in bankruptcy court.

Under the settlement, which is to be reviewed by Bankruptcy Court Judge Susan V. Kelley in November, abuse victims would receive varying amounts depending on their claims.

“This settlement represents for us in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee a new Pentecost, a day of rebirth that renews our focus on word, worship and service,” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said in a statement Tuesday.

The settlement came after three days of negotiations last month between the archdiocese, the creditors’ committee, and attorneys for those who say they were sexually abused by clergy, the archdiocese said.

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Some critics, even those who participated in the settlement talks, branded its terms extremely unfavorable to victims.

“The archdiocese has done a terrible disservice to the survivors to whom they promised to be fair,” said attorney Jeff Anderson, who has represented abuse victims for two decades and who was part of the negotiations. “The choice is pain or more pain.”

Of 575 sexual abuse claims filed in bankruptcy court, approximately 330 victims would receive compensation as a result of the proposed settlement.

Those who were abused by priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and those abused at an archdiocesan parish, school or institution, would be compensated. But others, such as those who could not identify an abuser, would receive nothing.

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“Our impression is that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has played hardball and used tactics from the start that have beaten down the survivors’ community and left the committee with no good choices in this process,” Anderson told the Los Angeles Times.

All parishes, schools and institutions of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee would be protected from future lawsuits that could have been filed under Chapter 11, according to the archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee first filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2011, saying financial lawsuits filed against the archdiocese exceeded its ability to pay.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the bankruptcy filing put on hold a dozen lawsuits involving 17 victims that were moving toward trial in state court.

The bankruptcy filing and other church actions had been intended as a way to fight victims and to hide behind the passage of time, Anderson said.  

The victims accepted the settlement because they had no other choice, he said. Otherwise, the archdiocese would have continued to fight, potentially resulting in an even less favorable outcome for victims.

Money for the settlement would come from insurance payouts of approximately $11 million and from voluntary arrangements with the Cemetery Perpetual Care Trust, which would lend the archdiocese $3 million and contribute $8 million to conclude all pending litigation, the archdiocese said.

The settlement would include $500,000 to establish a therapy fund for the victims.

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The Los Angeles Archdiocese has reached settlements exceeding $740 million with more than 500 abuse victims.

According to bishopaccountability.org, which aims to document the abuse crisis within the Catholic Church, Milwaukee is the 12th U.S. Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy over sexual abuse scandals.

natalie.schachar@latimes.com

Twitter: @natalieschachar

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