Dolan Setting up $4 Million Victims Fund
Archbishop: Mediator Will Design Resolution System

By Tom Heinen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Milwaukee WI]
November 6, 2003

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan is establishing a settlement fund of about $4 million for people who were abused by clergy as minors, and he has arranged for an independent mediator to design and manage a dispute resolution system he hopes church-wary victims will accept.

Dolan, the leader of nearly 700,000 Catholics in the 10-county archdiocese, announced those and other changes Thursday in interviews and in the archdiocese's weekly newspaper, the Catholic Herald.

"I'm sure that some will continue to criticize what we are doing as either 'too much' or 'too little,' " Dolan wrote in his Herald of Hope column. "I can only hope and pray that people see this as an honest, sincere attempt at justice, charity and compassion."

The settlement money will come from the sale of buildings and land that was given to, or was purchased by, the archdiocese over the years. Dolan said in an interview that he picked a $4 million estimate because his financial advisers had estimated that the property would sell for $3.5 million to $4.5 million.

That will not involve property from closed parishes, he added.

Is $4 million enough?

"The victims are always eloquent in saying, it's not about money," Dolan said. "No, it's not, and I don't think 10 times or 100 times would be enough. But I have to try to work with what I've got. I've got to be a sound steward. I've got to put some teeth into this. This is the money that I could come up with legitimately, prudently and to the point of sacrifice."

Leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests responded with a blend of gratitude, caution and warning early Thursday at a news conference in Juneau Park in front of a replica of the log cabin of Milwaukee founder Solomon Juneau. It is believed the first Catholic Mass in Milwaukee was said there in the early 1800s.

Peter Isely, a local network leader, said in an interview that at least 25 victims wanted to go through the revised mediation process together as soon as possible. If the system is set up quickly, network leaders hoped a group settlement could be achieved by Christmas.

Isely did not criticize the size of the settlement fund. He said it was too early to know what was needed or how many victims would come forward.

But he remained cautious about whether the person Dolan arranged to lead this effort - Eva Soeka, a nationally respected mediator and director of the Center for Dispute Resolution Education at Marquette University - will be able to establish a fair and independent system that will be acceptable to the network.

Soeka, former associate dean at Marquette's law school, will run the dispute resolution program as part of her private practice outside her university duties. Dolan said that she would assemble a pool of qualified mediators.

"It's all going to depend on how it's set up," Isely said. "So I would say we're happy we've got to this point.

"The onus is really on the archbishop. The pressure's on him. . . . If it's set up right, we are confident that the outcome's going to be right."

Barbara Blaine, the founder and national president of the survivors' network, spoke after Isely at the news conference, saying, "The era of fighting victims must come to an end, and if this is the day that Archbishop Dolan will change tactics, SNAP members, survivors, welcome that."

Steps have been taken

Dolan doesn't feel the public is aware of the various efforts the archdiocese has made over the years to help victims and prevent abuse.

One recent part of that was what Dolan termed a pastoral mediation process that addressed emotional, psychological and spiritual needs, along with financial restitution. But, apparently because those sessions were held on church property and were seen as being controlled by the church, only 10 victims have entered the process since it began in January.

That was frustrating for Dolan, and it stood out for some members of the state Assembly and Senate as they listened to tearful testimony from victims this fall while considering a proposed bill on sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

The bill extends the time for civil and criminal suits to be filed in future cases. But, because of constitutional uncertainties, the current draft does not let victims file suits in cases where statutes of limitation have expired.

Rep. Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin), co-chairman of the joint committee handling the bill, said: "I'm glad to see that he's making the mediation process more independent so more past victims feel comfortable, hopefully, coming forward and seeking mediation. Obviously, he's also prepared to spend some money. . . . I'm just pleased, very pleased."

Rep. Peggy Krusick (D-Milwaukee), who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), was "very encouraged" by Dolan's actions in "getting victim-survivors the healing, support and closure they need."

"Knowing that there were constitutional concerns, the best way to deal with the past cases of clergy abuse was most appropriately through independent church mediation," she said.

Dolan also wrote in his column that the archdiocese's Community Advisory Board would conduct a thorough review of the office for Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response. And, touching on another step some legislators and victims groups want, he reopened the possibility that he might at some point release the names of living priest-offenders.


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