Archdiocese asks Supreme Court to review appeals court decision on $55M cemetery trust fund

By Katie Delong
Fox 6
July 8, 2015

MILWAUKEE — In March, an appeals court ruled a $55 million cemetery trust fund is fair game in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s bankruptcy case, and now, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s “Cemetery Perpetual Care Trust” has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court — asking that they review the appeals court decision relating to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in May that the fund created by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan when he was archbishop of Milwaukee is not covered by the federal law that protects religious organizations from government interference.

Attorneys for clergy sexual abuse victims say Dolan created the fund to hide money from their clients. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

Hundreds of victims have since filed claims against the archdiocese.

Timothy Nixon, an attorney representing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Cemetery Perpetual Care Trust issued the following statement:

“There are compelling reasons for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up this critical case. The Seventh Circuit decision encroaches on religious freedom and curtails the protections in the First Amendment for the free expression of religion. The Seventh Circuit decision also is directly at odds with previous decisions rendered by at least three other Federal appeals courts in different parts of the country. Indeed, the Seventh Circuit expressly acknowledged in its ruling that its decision creates a split with another Federal Court which reached precisely an opposite conclusion. Further, the Seventh Circuit also accepted that the decision places a significant burden on the free expression of religion.

The Supreme Court’s intervention is urgently needed to protect the religious freedoms the Seventh Circuit decision threatens and to restore the free exercise of religion protections the decision rolls back.

At the same time, the country now has different federal courts offering conflicting opinions on these important Constitutional questions. Only the U.S. Supreme Court can clear up a deepening split on this important First Amendment issue and the free exercise of religious beliefs.

Our request is that the Supreme Court agree to review this case so that the substantial protections that are being threatened can be protected. At the same time, the Cemetery Trust continues to urge a prompt and fair resolution to the bankruptcy proceedings so that more support can be given to the sexual assault victims, as provided by the pending reorganization plan.”

SNAP, the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests has issued this statement:

“Making good on their verbal threat in open court to “spend down” the remaining money left in their estate to prevent 575 victims of rape, sexual assault and abuse by clergy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from receiving restitution, lawyers for Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki have filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court to overturn a Federal 7th Circuit’s decisive ruling that a fraudulent “Cemetery Trust” created by former Archbishop Timothy Dolan, now Cardinal of New York, was not “protected” by federal religious laws or the first amendment and can be used to compensate survivors.

A few weeks ago the archdiocese had already started carrying out its threat by randomly deposing and, of course, re-traumatizing victims, putting survivors through hours of questioning by church lawyers fishing for reasons to file yet more pointless briefs and run up expensive bills.  So far, lawyers’ fees and court costs are soaring near $20 million dollars while Listecki has begrudgingly offered $4 million dollars, total, for all rape victims, less than $7,000 dollars per survivor.

In today’s filing, Listecki again legally howls the discredited excuses of “religious freedom” and “first amendment rights”.  Clearly these rights are not enshrined in our constitution for bishops, or anyone else, to cover up sex crimes, as if child rape is no one’s business but their own.  What matters is not winning the brief (they won’t).   What matters is that it will be expensive, create more delays, and pile up legal fees so there is no money left for survivors.  You might as well move the Sunday collection plate over to the lawyers’ offices or, perhaps, the country club.  The later location might be easier since, as Listecki wrote in a recent column in the Catholic paper, he will be getting in as much golf in as he can this summer.  In the meantime, hundreds of victims are languishing through years of bankruptcy without help, much less justice.

When filing for bankruptcy over four and a half years ago Listecki urged victims to come forward for “restitution, healing and resolution.”  Since then, however, he has claimed that none of these 575 victims, not a single one, has a legitimate case.  Isn’t it pretty clear by now that Listekci filed the bankruptcy in utter bad faith and breech of promise to victims?  Rather, the bankruptcy was filed to prevent restitution to victims by deploying the federal bankruptcy system and so called “religious freedom” to shield Listecki, Dolan and dozens of child sex offenders from the consequences of their criminal conduct and cover-ups.

Dolan wrote to the Vatican when he sought permission to create his bogus cemetery trust that he was creating it to prevent US courts from compensating victims of priest sex abuse.  Since then, it has been shown the archdiocese has at least $300 million dollars available for victim restitution. But so far the archdiocese appears to have found a means to buy their way of justice, in plain sight, for everyone to see.  Again.”

The appeals court’s ruling reversed a judge’s decision that had found that the cemetery fund couldn’t be touched. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.


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