Ruling Major Victory for Victim/survivors in Milwaukee Archdiocese Bankruptcy
By Peter Isely
January 24, 2013
Ruling major victory for victim/survivors in Milwaukee Archdiocese bankruptcy
Archdiocese says it has no funds to compensate victims after paying 9 million dollars to lawyers and consultants
When asked if the archdiocese has finally turned over criminal evidence sought by police in current child sex abuse investigation, church’s lead lawyer replies: “sort of”
Statement by Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest Director
In a major victory today for some 570 victim/survivors who have filed cases in federal bankruptcy court charging fraud by the Milwaukee Archdiocese in the concealment and transfer of priest child sex offenders, Judge Susan V. Kelley has ruled that three key cases the archdiocese has sought to dismiss can proceed. Because the majority of cases filed by victims are similar to the three allowed into court today, the ruling should finally bring an end to the archdiocese unprecedented two year legal attack seeking to have nearly all the cases thrown out.
Sadly, it probably won’t.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki’s aggressive and wasteful legal strategy has also, it was learned, cost parishioners 9 million dollars in lawyers and consultant fees. Because of this, church lawyers are today claiming that, while they themselves have billed for millions, there is no restitution available from the archdiocese for a single victim/survivor.
Listecki, who is himself a lawyer, filed for bankruptcy two years ago “to properly compensate all victim survivors.” It’s clear now he never intended these words, and has instead made a lot of other lawyers rich.
It’s doubtful that the archdiocese, which moved tens of millions of dollars off the books before filing for bankruptcy, is suddenly without resources. In fact, Listecki himself claimed before filing that the archdiocese had only 4.2 million dollars to settle cases and lawyers’ fees. He has now spent over twice that amount without settling a single case.
Kelley also has indicated that she is willing to revisit and possibly lift significant sections of the protective order placed on the 60,000 plus pages of abuse related documents now under court seal, saying she will rule on the matter soon. The documents and depositions are expected to provide the fullest picture yet of the extent of criminal behavior by scores of offender clergy against children over the past 50 years, along with the systematic efforts by Milwaukee archbishops, bishops and church officials to cover-up these crimes.
Finally, in a surreal moment early in the hearing, Kelley asked lead archdiocesan lawyer Frank LaCoco if the church had finally turned over the file of former priest Jerome Wagner to the Fond du Lac police. Wagner is the target of a current and active child sex abuse investigation. Police revealed last week that for nearly two months archdiocesan officials had refused to turn over Wagner’s file, which contains criminal evidence that, as a priest, Wagner sexually assaulted youngsters.
Church officials told the police that the bankruptcy court would not allow them to release the file. Kelley made it abundantly clear that no such prohibition exists and that church authorities must cooperate with the police. When asked, then, if the archdiocese had finally done so, LaCoco replied “sort of”, claiming police will be “allowed” to inspect the file tomorrow, maybe. So, instead of church officials taking the file in hand and delivering it to the police, law enforcement has lost yet another week in their investigation.
The archdiocese has been caught once again protecting and safeguarding child molesters, even those that have left the priesthood, and simply refusing to accept any responsibility for it.
It’s time for Listecki to end his misguided legal war against clergy child sex abuse victims, open up the church abuse records, notify the public of any and all known clergy child molesters who have worked or are living in the archdiocese, and fully and speedily cooperate with law enforcement.
And do so today. Not “sort of” tomorrow.
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 10,000 members. 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