|Church Abuse Victims Criticize Mediation Efforts
By Annysa Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 1, 2011
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee's much-vaunted mediation process for victims of clergy sex abuse came under fire in a bankruptcy hearing Wednesday in which victims characterized it as humiliating and misleading.
"I left there feeling like they were doing it to me again, like they were deceiving me, lying to me," said a woman in her 50s who had been molested - along with her sisters - by the late Father Clarence Schouten while he was at St. Joseph Parish in Wauwatosa.
The woman, who repeatedly was molested between the ages of 6 and 11, said she settled in 2004 for $125,000 because the archdiocese insisted it had limited resources to pay victims.
When she challenged that assertion years later, after learning the archdiocese was selling its Cousins Center to pay abuse claims, she said she was scolded by archdiocese Chancellor Barbara Anne Cusack.
"She told me, 'It's people like you that put the archdiocese in that situation,'" the woman said.
"I'm a good Catholic. I go to church. I volunteer at church. But I guess I destroyed the archdiocese," she said, her voice shaking. (The Journal Sentinel does not name sex abuse victims who request anonymity.)
The woman and two other victims were called by creditors' attorneys, who hoped to block a request by the archdiocese for permission to pay $711,000 owed to 22 victims who had reached mediated settlements, and to begin mediation with two others.
In a split decision, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley allowed the archdiocese to pay $301,000, the amount due in 2011, with the understanding that it could be rescinded if creditors in the bankruptcy get less. And she allowed the two new mediations as long as they did not include financial terms and they were not considered final.
The judge also ordered the archdiocese to file the names of victims seeking anonymity in court, where the judge would place them under seal, a requirement the church had sought to avoid.
The archdiocese argued that keeping the names in its offices was needed to maintain confidentiality that was promised in mediation.
Creditors' attorneys said they supported anonymity for victims, through use of the court seal, but that letting the archdiocese retain the names without the scrutiny of even the court was a ploy by the church to evade accountability.
"This would be an unprecedented degree of secrecy," said creditors' attorney Kenneth Brown. "This is not about trying to control the victims. It's about making sure they get a fair shake."
Kelley challenged attorneys on both sides, at one point asking the archdiocese's lawyers how they could defend the mediation, given the victims' testimony, and admonishing creditors attorneys for invoking church bankruptcies elsewhere, saying she would do in her court "what I think is right."
Testimony about talks
The legal wrangling came after hours of emotional testimony by victims in which the creditors' attorneys tried to show, among other things, that victims in mediation were denied legal representation of their choice.
Frank LoCoco, attorney for the archdiocese, argued that none of the victims had ever complained about the mediation process previously, and that Marquette law professor Eva Soeka, who designed the mediation process, testified that she'd never had complaints about it.
Sharon Tarantino, who was molested by Father Siegfried Widera when she was 11, said she was forced to compile police reports and visit the scene of the crimes before being admitted to mediation - in contrast to procedures spelled out in testimony by Soeka.
Steven Geier, who was raped by the late Father Lawrence Murphy at St. John's School for the Deaf, testified through an interpreter that he felt pressured to sign his agreement after a marathon negotiation session. He said his lawyer spoke with then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan by telephone, after which the lawyer told him Dolan said, "If you don't take this agreement today, then tomorrow you get nothing."
Lawyers for the archdiocese called the attorney, James Smith, to rebut much of Geier's testimony. Smith said he never spoke to Dolan during the negotiations and wasn't hired by the church. However, he did say the archdiocese later refused to accept into mediation any clients he represented.
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