Sexual Abuse Deal Reported

By Marie Rohde
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 3, 2009

Lawyer says archdiocese settled with another Widera victim

The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese has reached a settlement involving another California sexual abuse case, a lawyer said Tuesday.

The settlement is unrelated to nearly $17 million that the archdiocese and its insurer paid as part of a 2006 settlement with 10 victims.

Irwin Zalkin, a San Diego lawyer who represented a 41-year-old man who said he was abused by Milwaukee priest Siegfried Widera, declined to reveal how much the Milwaukee church agreed to pay because he is still negotiating a settlement with the California Diocese of Orange.

The man involved in the case said he was abused by Widera between 1979 and 1981 while a student at a San Diego parochial school. Zalkin said his client was 12 to 14 years old at the time.

Widera worked as a priest at the school between 1977 and 1986 after he left Milwaukee amid a series of other sexual abuse allegations, including one that resulted in his arrest for having sexual contact with an 11-year-old boy in Port Washington.

The $17 million settlement forced the Milwaukee church to put up for sale the Cousins Center in St. Francis, the current headquarters of the local church, and other properties.

The church also was forced to liquidate some long- and short-term investments to pay its $8.25 million portion of the settlement.

The sale of the Cousins Center to Cardinal Stritch University has not yet been completed.

Nine of the 10 cases involved allegations of abuse by Widera; the other involved abuse by another Milwaukee priest, Franklyn Becker.

At the time of the first settlement, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said the archdiocese's liability could have been towering if the cases had gone to trial.

The archdiocese did not comment on the new settlement when contacted Tuesday.

Peter Isely, a local spokesman for survivors of sexual abuse by priests, called on Dolan to reveal how many other settlements are being negotiated.

"He never mentioned this case," Isely said. "How many other secret negotiations of sex abuse cases has Dolan got the archdiocese in?"

A pair of decisions issued in the mid-1990s by the Wisconsin Supreme Court all but blocked sexual abuse lawsuits here.

Another decision issued by the high court in July 2007 narrowly opened the door to lawsuits here. Those cases accuse the church of fraud for placing known abusers in the ministry without warning the parish of the priest's history.

A handful of cases filed are pending in Milwaukee. Last year, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jean DiMotto ruled that the church's insurers did not provide coverage in these cases.

In 2002 and 2003, Wisconsin authorities issued 11 felony charges against Widera based on abuse allegations dating to the 1970s.

Widera went on the run and jumped to his death in May 2003 after he was cornered by police at a resort in Mexico.


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