Archdiocese Angers Many by Contesting Abuse Claims

By New York Times
Laurie Goodstein
February 3, 2012

More than 550 people who say they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests or church employees have filed claims against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in bankruptcy proceedings, the largest group of claimants against any of the eight dioceses that have declared bankruptcy since 2004.

The claimants came forward, many just before the deadline late Wednesday, after being encouraged to do so by the church itself and by victims’ advocates. The archdiocese ran notices in local parish bulletins and in newspapers across the country, as the bankruptcy court required.

However, if the archdiocese has its way in court, as many as 95 percent of the claims could be dismissed. The archdiocese has filed motions asking the bankruptcy judge to throw out the claims of those whose cases are beyond the statute of limitations, or who already have settlements from the archdiocese or whose alleged abuse was at the hands of a layman or laywoman working for the church, not a cleric, said Jerry Topczewski, a spokesman for the Milwaukee archdiocese.

The archdiocese will also ask the judge to bar any claims involving priests who were members of religious orders. Although those priests may have been working in parishes that are part of the archdiocese, the archdiocese contends that they were not technically employees.

Mr. Topczewski said: “Our parishes are separately incorporated, always have been, and someone who’s a layperson employed by X-Y-Z parish is not an employee of the archdiocese. A judge is going to have to make the interpretation.”

The church’s legal maneuver has infuriated those who came forward, who now feel doubly betrayed. Among them is Jerry Hoekman, who filed a claim saying that he was molested repeatedly when he was 11 by the Rev. William Farrell, who would summon him to his bedroom.

“I’m very angry,” Mr. Hoekman said in a telephone interview. “To know that they want to shove it under the rug when it’s still so vivid in my head I can make a blueprint of his house? What about this image I live with every day?”

The church will argue that Mr. Hoekman’s case is beyond the statute of limitations, which is six years because it is a fraud case, like many of the claimants’. Mr. Hoekman is 50 and said he was abused in about 1973. He first confided in his mother just a few years ago.

Mr. Hoekman’s lawyer, Michael Finnegan, said he would argue that the case was within the statute because the church had never acknowledged its allegedly fraudulent act of concealing this priest’s record of abuse (even though Father Farrell, who died in 1999, was listed by the archdiocese as a clergy offender).

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2011, after mediation sessions between the church and those who said they had been abused deadlocked. Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said at the time that this would be the best way to compensate victims fairly while allowing the church to continue its mission.

The seven other dioceses besides Milwaukee to file for bankruptcy are Davenport, Iowa; Fairbanks, Alaska; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Spokane, Wash.; Tucson; and Wilmington, Del.








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