Statement by the Reverend James Connell – February 7, 2012
February 7, 2012
The following statement was read by Fr. Jim Connell, Vice Chancellor of the Milwaukee Archdiocese and victim advocate in front of the U.S. Federal Courthouse at SNAP’s press conference discussing the recent court filing by the archdiocese of Milwaukee which seeks to dismiss 95% of the claims filed by victim/survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has gone to great efforts to invite into the bankruptcy process the victims / survivors of sexual abuse “by any clergy member, teacher, deacon, employee, volunteer, or other person connected with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee”, as was stated on the public postings about filing a claim before the February 1, 2012 “bar date”. But neither the public postings nor the Abuse Survivor Proof of Claim form stated any eligibility restrictions, such as statute of limitations, prior settlement agreements, or factors of archdiocesan employment. Rather, both the public postings and the proof of claim form invited participation in a way that acknowledged financial awareness, while also providing a gesture that pursues truth, justice and healing. For many people, hope was found in the midst of a financial maneuver.
It could be, therefore, that survivors of sexual abuse interpreted the process as one in which the Catholic Church was wanting do what is right and good, even if not required by law. The gesture by the Archdiocese could have been seen to mean that the Church was willing to remedy abuse cases even if beyond the statue of limitations (truly, it’s difficult for some survivors to speak up promptly), or even if there was a prior settlement (maybe it wasn’t really fair), or even if the abuse was by a religious order priest (after all, they can’t serve in the Archdiocese without the permission – faculty – of the Archbishop). Indeed, the bankruptcy claims process seemed inviting, not restrictive.
Last Wednesday it was reported that more than 500 persons accepted the invitation and responded by filing a claim. What are the chances that these claims, or at least the vast majority of them, are legitimate? Very high, I would say, and I base that opinion on a report by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published in 2011 that indicates a high rate of credible allegations: 88.2% over the last five years (Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People – 2010, Chapter Four: CARA Survey of Allegations and Costs, Figure 9 on p.41)
[Fewer than 2 percent of sexual abuse allegations against the Catholic Church appear to be false. Please see explanatory data from Bishop Accountability. An unsubstantiated report does not indicate a false report. The statistic provided by CARA that 88.2% of reports are credible indicates that 12.8% of reports are either unsubstantiated or false. John Pilmaier SNAP Wisconsin Director]
Therefore, it is highly likely that the vast majority of the more than 500 claims truthfully report sexual abuse.
But, to now learn that the Archdiocese wants the dismissal of the vast majority of the claims, if the recent media reports of that possibility are correct, renders questionable that gesture of hope. If the dismissal of the vast majority of the claims is the intention of the Archdiocese, and especially if this strategy has been the intention all along, then shame on all involved for having raised the hopes of many people, survivors and non-survivors alike, that we might be moving closer to learning the truth so that justice can have its day and so that healing might become a reality, and then shattering those hopes. Eligibility restrictions should have been stated clearly on the public postings and on the proof of claim form. To introduce these restrictions at the end of the process is disingenuous and further breeds distrust of Catholic Church leaders. For some/many/all of the claimants participation in this process took great courage. To be turned away now adds to trauma, not to healing.
Does the Archdiocese of Milwaukee really intend to ask Judge Susan V. Kelley to bar the vast majority of the claims that have been filed in the Archdiocese’s bankruptcy procedure? I hope and pray that the answer is no.
(Reverend James Connell is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the pastor of two parishes in Sheboygan, Wis.)
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (cf. The Book of Proverbs 31:8)