Milwaukee Clergy Abuse Victims Talk about the Settlements They Did - and Didn't - Receive
July 5, 2013
Documents released this week by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee provide some of the first details on settlements paid to clergy sex abuse victims in southeastern Wisconsin. They show a few victims received large sums, but most did not — and many received nothing.
Several victims spoke to The Associated Press about their quest for compensation for the abuse they suffered. Here are their stories:
Steven Geier, a 63-year-old retired carpenter who lives in Madison, was molested by Lawrence Murphy in 1964 while attending a school for the deaf in Milwaukee. He said he reported the abuse to several priests between 1965 and 1968 but nothing was done. He didn't seek any compensation from the archdiocese until about 2005, when he learned that a friend who had suffered similar abuse had received $200,000.
Geier, whose settlement is not included in the files made public this week, said he received $80,000. He said he asked about the difference in payments and was told it was because the other man lived in Seattle, where the cost of living was much higher than Milwaukee.
"I told him that doesn't make sense, we're all victims," Geier said in sign language translated by his daughter.
Several victims said that those who were abused by Murphy at the deaf school seem to have had a particularly tough time getting help from the archdiocese, in part because they were among the first to come forward and perhaps because of their disability. Geier said he was pressured to sign his deal during eight straight hours of mediation with no break, and he said he was told if he didn't take it, there'd be no offer the next day.
He said the abuse and his subsequent treatment by the archdiocese made him feel like "a second class citizen."
John Pilmaier, a 42-year-old social worker who lives in Milwaukee, received $100,000 from the archdiocese during the mediation process that started under former Milwaukee Archbishop and now New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Pilmaier's settlement was not included in the files released this week.
Pilmaier, who was 7 years old when he was molested by David Hanser at a rectory in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield, reported the abuse in 2006. He said he met with Dolan and other archdiocese officials who seemed sympathetic. He sat through a long mediation session during which he described his experience.
"I thought that if I could really let them know how this affected me, then they'll do everything in their power not to let this happen to anyone else," he said.
During the session, he asked two questions that were important to him: When did the archdiocese first learn of allegations against Hanser? And, had any other children from his Catholic school been hurt?
He was told the first allegations were made in the 1980s and that he was the only victim from his school.
The records released Monday showed a report had been made in 1975, two years before Pilmaier was abused, and that at least one other boy from his school was molested.
"I don't know how a faith institution can lie to the people they've hurt the very most," Pilmaier said.
Monica Barrett, a 52-year-old paralegal from Milwaukee, was raped in a church at age 8 by William Effinger. She sued the archdiocese in 1993, when she was 32. A judge dismissed her case, saying too much time had passed. She was appealing that decision when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that the First Amendment protects religious institutions from negligence lawsuits related to priests' sexual misconduct. Barrett's appeal ended.
By that point, the church had already sued her to recoup $14,000 it paid in legal bills.
"I believe what they wanted to do is make an example of me and say, 'See this is what is going to happen to you if you come after the Catholic church,'" she said.
The experience left her afraid to pursue a claim under Dolan's mediation process, but she has made a claim in federal bankruptcy court, along with hundreds of other victims. When the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011, and the court put out a call for all victims to come forward, Barrett said she realized "this was the last time I would ever be able to stand up for myself against them."
She said people ask her how much money she wants, but she has no answer.
"I always say, what's the going rate for your soul these days?"